Imagine my dismay when, on November 26, 2006, I received a copy of the "Motion for Rule to Show Cause" filed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States against the Guardian, Joel B. Marangella, Hand of the Cause Franklin Schlatter, and the Provisional National Bahá'í Council ("PNBC"), the governing body of the Orthodox Bahá'ís in the United States.
I became an Orthodox Bahá'í in 1997, after researching the claims of the various groups who call themselves "Bahá'í." Prior to that, since 1980 I had been a declared member in good standing of the Bahá'í Faith under the majority group whose sans-Guardian Universal House of Justice sits in Haifa (hereinafter referred to as "Bahá'í World Faith" or "BWF" ). I had not previously known other Bahá'í organizations even existed, having been told that they died out long ago, but the truth became revealed when I began surfing the internet. I read the materials of several so-called covenant breaking groups, but I did not catch a spiritual disease! Instead I came to realize that I had not been told the truth, and that I already had a spiritual disease by virtue of giving my support to an organization (BWF) that was, knowingly or not, in opposition to the true Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh.
My healing from this spiritual disease of covenant-breaking only began when I declared under the Guardianship of Joel B. Marangella. My decision was instantly confirmed to be the correct one simply by the reaction of the BWF community, which was devoid of courage, conviction, or integrity. Their reaction was filled with fear and a stubborn refusal to even consider the facts. I was declared a covenant-breaker and my family and I were shunned. My 12-year old daughter was devastated when the community members who she thought were her friends was told (outside of my presence) that they would never speak to her again for a reason that was beyond her comprehension but which they did not bother to even explain. It took her many years before she got over the shock of this cruel treatment at the hands of the BWF members. Every one of them should feel very ashamed of themselves for this cruel fanatic behavior for which there is no excuse. They will answer for this crime when their souls seek admittance into the Abha Kingdom.
The people in the group seem so loving to a casual observer. But underneath there is this cult-like atmosphere in which people are not free to be themselves. They are constantly answering to their Administration for everything.
The most striking thing is that out of all the persons in the BWF who called themselves my friend, only one of them even considered or listened to the true facts that I had discovered about the Faith (and she too joined the OBF and was declared a covenant breaker). There was so much irrational fear in the community that they could not bring themselves to consider any of the arguments or even to read their own writings on the subject. All that they knew was that the so-called "Counselors" had decided that I was a covenant-breaker and therefore that I was spiritually diseased and must be shunned, or even if they thought maybe I was sincere they only knew that they did not want to hear about it and risk being shunned as well. It became readily apparent that I did not belong in the BWF and that my fellow "Bahá'ís" of the BWF were not truly Bahá'ís at all but were cult members driven by fear and manipulative coercion rather than true faith. The BWF was a complete fraud.
I truly did not give it much thought after that but went on with my life. It was almost a decade later when I received the contempt motion from the NSA for my review. My fellow Orthodox Bahá'ís were aware that I was an attorney already admitted to the bar of the United States District Court in Chicago, Illinois. My initial reaction was disbelief that the NSA would engage in this behavior, to try to silence the Orthodox Bahá'ís by preventing them from calling themselves Bahá'ís, publicly using the words and symbols of the Greatest Name, and that they would be so blind that they would seek to use the power of the federal court to enforce their belief that there was one and only one Faith of Bahá'u'lláh and nobody else but them should be allowed to make this claim. They were so fanatical that they would be willing to damage the First Amendment principles of the United States in order to silence a small group of "dissident" Bahá'ís they referred to as "Remeyites."
A closer look at this matter revealed that the NSA had long ago attacked the First Amendment of the United States. There was the unsuccessful attempt to have a New York court in 1941 prevent Ahmad Sohrab from calling himself a Bahá'í. He was the former secretary of `Abdu'l-Bahá who Shoghi Effendi declared to be a covenant-breaker. After the NSA was told by that Court that it could not have the exclusive right to the term Bahá'í, the NSA tried again 25 years later, when it obtained a default judgment against the National Spiritual Assembly under the Hereditary Guardianship (the "Remey NSA") in 1966. At Mason Remey's behest, the Remey NSA had filed suit against the Wilmette NSA seeking control over the assets of the Faith as being the true NSA. The Wilmette NSA counter-claimed saying it had the right to exclusive control.
Although it was not settled law at the time, the U.S. courts may not decide religious disputes. In a dispute between competing religious organizations, the courts can only decide questions of property law. Therefore, whether the Wilmette NSA or the Remey NSA were legitimate under the Law of Bahá'u'lláh is not relevant to the courts of the United States. Under federal law, the Wilmette NSA was a clear winner simply because it was the corporate entity that legally controlled the assets of the Bahá'í Faith in the United States. Had the Wilmette NSA as a corporate body sided with Mason Remey then the property of the Faith would still belong to that corporate body and the Bahá'ís under the Guardianship would have taken control over all assets of the Faith. Even though the Wilmette NSA would have won anyway under neutral principles of property law, they proceeded to obtain that infamous 1966 Judgment against the Remey NSA.
This 1966 Judgment is an embarrassment to the federal courts and to the NSA. The Remey NSA was unaware there was a hearing on it at the time (this is evidenced by the minutes of the Remey NSA meeting shortly after the 1966 Judgment), its attorney did not show up to the hearing, and the Wilmette NSA apparently just wrote a default Judgment which was signed by the Judge. That Judgment made findings that the Wilmette NSA's organization was the one and only true Bahá'í Faith, that Shoghi Effendi was the one and only Guardian, and that the Remey NSA and its members were not allowed to publicly declare themselves to be "Bahá'í" or to associate themselves publicly with anything "Bahá'í" including the sacred images and words of the Greatest Name. They were allowed under the Judgment to practice privately although they could not publicly teach their Faith (which is a personal obligation of every believer).
This was a federal court order declaring the BWF to be the one and only form of Bahá'í Faith to be allowed in the United States. The conduct of the NSA in having this Judgment entered was to jeopardize the First Amendment of the United States. However, nothing ever came of it for 40 years.
But on November 26, 2006, when I was looking at the Wilmette NSA's Motion that sought to hold the OBF in contempt of court it was impossible for me to understand how the Wilmette NSA was now seeking to actually enforce this grossly unconstitutional and erroneous Judgment in a modern day Court. Despite the shameful treatment by this organization against me and despite their shameful past court actions, I still stood there in disbelief that this organization could stoop so low.
As if their shunning behavior against me was not enough, their Motion specifically included my own personal teaching web site as being in violation of the 1966 Judgment. That outrageous Judgment was now being used in an attempt to silence me and prevent me from teaching my own religious views!
The Motion for Contempt was stating that the OBF was the same thing as the Remey NSA, that we were "Remeyites" and all of us were bound by the Judgment. The NSA was basically saying that the 1966 Judgment made the OBF illegal in the United States (and also the BUPC a separate organization that was also attacked by the Wilmette NSA) and that the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith could not declare publicly that he was a Bahá'í!
The Remey NSA never appealed the Judgment back in 1966 because Mason Remey instructed them not to seek reconsideration or appeal of the Judgment "regardless of the consequences". This was incredibly unwise from a legal point of view because no matter how unconstitutional it is, the consequences are that once the Judgment is final it generally cannot be challenged or overturned. Although Orthodox Bahá'ís don't believe Remey was the Guardian at the time, the members of the Remey NSA believed at the time he still was the Guardian and they obeyed him, and so the Judgment became final. At Remey's behest, the Remey NSA was dissolved and the Bahá'í Faith under the Guardianship practically ceased to exist. The remnants of that organization entered into inactivity from that point forward.
Forty years later, this all became a problem for me as the attorney for the Orthodox Bahá'í Faith. The Court wanted to hold a hearing and make a factual determination whether the OBF was in legal "privity" with the Remey NSA under religiously neutral law. If it was in privity then the OBF would be presumably bound by the Judgment and the OBF would not be able to challenge its validity. It would be as if the OBF had the same identity, legally speaking, with the Remey NSA and therefore had the same rights and obligations under the Judgment. It would have meant that the OBF was effectively outlawed by the 1966 Judgment.
Suddenly the very strange history of the founding of the OBF was very relevant to the findings of the Court. The NSA wanted to show that the OBF was a continuation of the Remey NSA. The NSA argued: Even though the Remey NSA was dissolved and ceased to function in 1966, the remnants of that organization such as the late Hand of the Cause of God Franklin Schlatter and the Guardian, Joel B. Marangella, for all practical purposes revived the Remey NSA as the OBF and PNBC. Therefore, Franklin Schlatter and Joel B. Marangella (both of whom were instrumental figures in the Remey organization), the PNBC, and all those who they attracted to the OBF, were now bound to the Judgment just the same. The PNBC was nothing more than the alter ego of the Remey NSA. It simply was the remnant of the Remey NSA continuing to function as the Remey NSA under the name of PNBC and doing exactly what the Remey NSA did which was carrying on the Guardianship with the only difference being that this organization had recognized Marangella as the religious successor to Remey.
What the NSA argued could have easily been the history of the OBF, but in truth that was not what happened. The OBF presented the facts about the founding of the OBF at trial in Chicago, before Judge St. Eve. In preparing for this trial, it became apparent the strange and embarrassing history and origin of the OBF was a gift from God because nobody else could have orchestrated such a perfect case. The truth of the OBF's origins, the facts that history presented to me, comprise the perfect defense for the OBF against the NSA's allegations.
The facts shown at trial were that the Mason Remey organization and all of its remnants had forever ceased to function in the United States by Mason's own orders. Joel B. Marangella did not recognize these orders because Joel claimed to be the Guardian since 1965 when Mason activated the IBC with Joel as the President of the Second International Bahá'í Council, which under Mason's teachings as the second Guardian meant that Remey had abdicated the Guardianship and turned over the Guardianship to Joel B. Marangella. At the time when Mason instructed the Remey NSA not to appeal the Judgment, Joel was the Guardian and therefore the OBF did not get its day in court since it was Remey who made the ultimate decision. Under legal principles, there was a split between the two organizations. There was no privity between the OBF and the Remey organization because the OBF and the defunct Remey organization and its remnants were two distinct and competing organizations under competing leadership for many years. There was no similarity in how the two organizations functioned. The only thing the two organizations had in common were some religious beliefs, all of which are irrelevant to a Court that is obligated to apply and follow religiously neutral civil law to the dispute rather than deciding religious disputes on their merits.
It was certainly the work of divine Providence that Mason abdicated the Guardianship and apparently later had forgotten that he had done so, continuing to assume the functions as the Guardian even though he had passed the mantle of spiritual authority to Joel. Because of this, in order to join the OBF, you had to leave the unorganized remnants of the Remey NSA organization, turn away from Mason and his religious organization, and affirmatively join Joel in a legally separate organization.
Thanks to Providence, the the OBF was not in legal privity with the Remey NSA and therefore was not bound by the Judgment. If not for the facts of history, Judge St. Eve might have found that the OBF was in privity and therefore subject to the outrageous Judgment of 1966 without the ability to overturn the Judgment. I did raise the argument that the Court in 2006, in the event the Court did find the OBF was in privity, that it could only enforce those parts of the Judgment that were not unconstitutional because it would be engaging in unconstitutional acts such as shutting down OBF web sites and prohibiting the OBF from identifying themselves with their own Faith. However, I am overjoyed that Judge St. Eve never had to decide that question because she first decided after considering the facts presented at trial in Chicago, Illinois that under neutral principles of federal law the OBF was not the same organization or in continuity with or legally identified with the one headed up by the Remey NSA and therefore that Judgment did not apply to the OBF.
Happily the 1966 Judgment is now a matter of history. Thankfully, it is probably no longer a threat to anyone. Unfortunately, the Wilmette NSA remains a threat to the First Amendment unless it gives up its mania for squelching the religious freedoms of those who disagree with it. It is my hope and wish that the Wilmette NSA will finally realize that you cannot enforce unity with a court order. The NSA simply must tolerate the existence of other groups of Bahá'í at least in the United States or it runs the risk of forever ruining the name of the Faith making synonymous the word "Bahá'í" and "enemy of freedom of speech and religion." I certainly would be happy to tolerate and co-exist with all of the other Bahá'í groups in existence regardless of whether I agree with their beliefs. How could it possibly be that tolerance for others' religious views cannot be attained by a group of people who call themselves Bahá'í?
To see the court documents in the case, follow this link: