Baha'i rift: Baha'is upset with Orthodox Baha'i Faith Mainstream group doesn't want the name Baha'i by any other
By Manya A. Brachear Tribune reporter May 18,2009
Every religion has been riven by struggles over authority and
Buddhism began when a maverick Hindu prince inspired disciples to embrace asceticism. Judaism has sprouted branches from ultra-orthodox to ultra-liberal, even Jews for Jesus.
Christianity went through numerous profound splits, including the Protestant
Reformation sparked in the 16th Century by Martin Luther in Germany and the 19th
Century Mormon movement led by Joseph Smith in the U.S.
Now the Baha'i Faith, the organization representing the most recent sect to spring from
Islam, is struggling to defend its identity in federal court in Chicago, where North American
Baha'is have been based ever since believers came to the U.S. about 90 years ago. They contend that a tiny band of believers known as the Orthodox Baha'i Faith can't call
themselves Baha'i or use one of its key symbols without violating trademark law or a
previous court ruling more than 40 years ago.
In the hands ofthe federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the case could set a precedent
for settling religious schisms, doctrinal disputes and claims to truth.
"The word Baha'i carries with it implications for a certain sets of beliefs --and we have to
protect that," said Robert Stockman, a practicing Baha'i and religious studies instructor at
Adherents ofthe Orthodox Baha'i Faith believe the international community has strayed
from the religion's original teachings. That deviation, they say, threatens to interfere with
God's plan for the world.
Baha'u'lhih, who founded the faith in Iran in the mid-19th Century, is regarded by
Baha'is as the most recent messenger of God in a long line including Abraham, Buddha,
Krishna, Jesus and Muhammad. Baha'is believe Baha'u'llah revealed God's plan by
which humanity one day would unite to become a single race.
On a Web site called www.truebahai.com. the orthodox group faults the mainstream
denomination for corrupting that plan.
The mainstream Baha'is have responded with a lawsuit that tries to bar the orthodox
from calling themselves Baha'i and sharing the "The Greatest Name," a sacred and
trademarked symbol. Baha'is believe they are not only safeguarding their identity.They are defending the truth with a capital T.
The Orthodox say that is not a matter for the courts to decide.
"We're the true faith. That's what we would say," said Jeffrey Goldberg, a member of the
Orthodox Baha'i Faith who left Chicago to be closer to an Orthodox community in New Mexico."That has to be decided in the hearts and minds ofthe Baha'i, not by a secular court order."
The Baha'is first took breakaway believers to court in 1966 after a tumultuous time for their
community. Nine years earlier, Shoghi Effendi, guardian ofthe faith and direct descendant
ofthe founding prophet, had died unexpectedly and allegedly without naming a successor.
Leaders decided a Universal House ofJustice envisioned by Effendi would oversee the faith.
But shortly after the leaders announced their solution, one ofthem declared that Effendi
actually had intended for him to serve as the next guardian.
Charles Mason Remey, then in his 90s, said Effendi had addressed him in letters as his son
or spiritual descendant.
The National Assembly ofFrance and about 100 others followed Remey. But the rest of the
Baha'i community declared Remey a covenant breaker, expelled him from the faith and
successfully sued his followers, barring them from calling themselves Baha'i and using the
sacred symbol. Remey's group disbanded, but orthodox believers reorganized and continued
to maintain the guardianship.
Thirty years later, Goldberg, an active Baha'i in Barrington, came upon the splinter group
while surfing the Internet. He became convinced that he had been duped.
With no explanation, Goldberg quietly resigned from the community because he knew the
consequences. When Bahai's are declared covenant breakers, they are shunned or ostracized
with the exception of business relations.
But Janice Franco wouldn't let Goldberg go that easily.
She insisted on knowing why he left and, when he told her, went on a quest to prove him
wrong. After plunging herself into Baha'i literature, Franco discovered Goldberg might have
Indeed, both Goldberg and Franco were declared covenant breakers and shunned. Goldberg's
wife was encouraged to divorce her husband. Franco's home-schooled children lost a number
of friends. To this day, they are wary of organized religion.
"It was devastating news to find out the larger group had strayed," Franco said. "I want to
follow the truth. I don't want to support a mistake.
"The consequence is I don't have a community. "
Then in 2006, the mainstream Baha'is filed a lawsuit, accusing the orthodox believers
ofviolating the court order issued 40 years earlier.
The Orthodox Baha'is insist they aren't the same group. They also say a religious denomination
can't trademark truth. The term Baha'i refers to a follower of Baha'u'lhih. That applies to him
and other Orthodox Baha'i, he said.
"From our point
of view, if you believe in Christ you can use the word Christ in your name," Goldberg said. "It's a
little bit like asking you to recant your faith. It's unacceptable to us."
But Stockman said it is the religion's responsibility to protect the Baha'i
"Baha'is are told again and again to try to exercise discipline on what they say about their
faith and don't confuse the public.... We have our own community to build," he said.
There are 5 million Baha'is in the world --150,000 in the U.S., including 2,000 in the
Chicago area. Why the mainstream denomination waited four decades to enforce the court ruling is a mystery. Baha'i
leaders declined interview requests.
Barring the Orthodox believers from using the name "Baha'i" prevents them from popping up in Google when users type in that term.
Stockman said the Web is a tricky place to have conversations about spiritual
truth. "It's not our desire to convert people.
It's our desire to put our material out there for people
to know what the truth is and decide themselves."
firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune 5/25/2009 7:28 AM
Baha'i schism battles it out in court The Honolulu Advertiser
Judge: Baha'i believers can call themselves Baha'i
A federal court in Chicago has ruled a group of self-proclaimed orthodox Baha'i believers can keep calling themselves Baha'i despite a 1966 court decision that stopped an offshoot organization from using the Baha'I name.
Today, the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 1966 decision does not apply to a different offshoot known as the Orthodox Baha'i Faith.
Though the judges criticized the ruling from more than four decades ago as wrongfully trying to resolve a question of religious authority, they determined it was a moot point since the original defendants led a denomination that no longer exists.
Tuesday's ruling sidestepped any questions about whether a religious organization can trademark its name or icons.
North American Baha'is have been based in Chicago ever since believers came to the U.S. about 90 years ago.
Adherents of the Orthodox Baha'i Faith--about 50 strong in the U.S.--believe the mainstream Baha'i faith -- about 5 million strong in the world -- has strayed from the religion's original teachings.
-- Manya A. Brachear