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N.Y. judge rules Hare Krishna movement is bona fide religion

This article, "N.Y. judge rules Hare Krishna movement is 'bona fide religion'," was published in Arizona Daily Star, March 18, 1977, in Tucson, Arizona. 

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NEW YORK - The Hare Krishna movement was called a "bona fide religion" yesterday by the state Supreme Court justice in Queens, who threw out two indictments against officials of the movement that charged them with illegal imprisonment of two members and attempted extortion from the father of one of the believers. 

"The entire and basic issue before this court," said Justice John L. Leahy, "is whether or not the two alleged victims in this case, and the defendants will be allowed to practice the religion of their choice - and this must be answered with a resounding affirmative.

The indictments, handed down last year, were the first of their kind against the Hare Krishna movement.

The indictments allege that Angus Murphy, president of the New York temple of the religion, and Harold Conley, supervisor of women at the temple, held Edward Shapiro and Merylee Kreshour in the temple, illegally, by brainwashing them. 

Murphy was also accused of acting in concert with the movement and trying to extort $20,000 from Shapiro's father. The allegations were denied by Shapiro's son and by Miss Kreshour. 

The grand jury was convened after Kreshour said she was kidnaped by Galen Kelly, a Kingston, N.Y., private detective hired by her mother, to get her into deprograming. Her mother and Kelly were not charged, and the grand jury spent a month hearing testimony from former Hare Krishnas and parents around the country. 

Leahy, after finding that Kreshour and the younger Shapiro had lived voluntarily in the temple, and finding no case for attempted extortion, said: 

"The Hare Krishna religion is a bona fide religion with roots in India that go back thousands of years. It behooved Merylee Kreshour and Edward Shapiro to follow the tenets of that faith and their inalienable right to do so will not be trammeled upon.

"The separation of church and state must be maintained. We are, and must remain, a nation of laws, not of men. The presentment and indictment by the grand jury was in direct and blatant violation of defendants' constitutional rights.

The judge pointed out that the prosecution, during the hearing last month, had conceded that no physical force had been used by the defendants against Kreshour or the younger Shapiro, adding: 

"The said two individuals entered the Hare Krishna movement voluntarily and submitted themselves voluntarily to the regimen, rules and regulations of said so-called Hare Krishna religion, and it is also conceded that the alleged victims were not in any way physically restrained from leaving the defendant organization." Turning to the allegations of brainwashing, he said: 

"It appears to the court that the people rest their case on an erroneous minor premise to arrive at a fallacious conclusion. The record is devoid of one specific allegation of a misrepresentation or any act of deception on the part of any defendant.

Murphy heralded the dismissal of "mind control" charges against his movement as a victory for those who seek religious relief from "a dangerous and hellish world.

"When somebody's right to seek freedom on spiritual platforms is limited by the law, then I guess any other kind of liberty becomes meaningless," an elated, saffron-robed Murphy said. 

Murphy wore a garland of green-tinted carnations in observance of St. Patrick's Day and carried a "danda," a staff that signifies he is a Krishna monk, for his court appearance. 

Queens assistant Dist. Atty. Michael Schwed, who handled the case, said he had been told not to comment on the decision. He said the district attorney would decide whether to seek further indictments or appeal.

The director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Ira Glasser, hailed the decision. 

"Schwed had been sort of functioning like an avenging angel, claiming the power to decide what other people should believe," he said. "That is something our system, through the Constitution, prohibits government from doing and I think the court put Schwed in his place.

Leahy, who stressed that his decision is intended as a "dire caveat to prosecutional agencies throughout the length and breadth of the land," cited the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and said: 

"The freedom of religion is not to be abridged because it is unconventional in its beliefs and practices or because it is approved or disapproved by the mainstream of society or more conventional religions.

"Without this proliferation and freedom to follow the dictates of one's own conscience in this search for and approach to God, the freedom of religion will be a meaningless right as provided for in the constitution.

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