The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience



In March 2006, philosophy and religious studies Professor Dann May[6] and his wife[7] Phyllis E Bernard, current Robert S. Kerr Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law Director of the Center on Alternative Dispute Resolution, Oklahoma City University[8] received correspondence from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, questioning the couple's desire to leave the organization, and seeking to arrange for representatives of the National Spiritual Assembly to fly to May and Bernard's residence for further discussions regarding their withdrawal. May and Bernard's reply is cited below:

Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 10:01 AM
To: May, Dann
Subject: Request to meet with you
Importance: High

Mr. Dann May

Dear Baha'i Friend,

The National Spiritual Assembly has tried twice to reach you and your wife by phone at the only phone number we have for you, so we hope that this email address is current. The National Assembly was sorry to learn of your desire to withdraw from membership in the Baha'i Faith and would like to hear in fuller form the thoughts you expressed in your January letter.

To that end it has asked that two representatives fly to Norman, OK on Saturday, March 18 to meet with you and your wife at a time that is convenient for you. We hope that you will be agreeable to sharing your perspectives and concerns with these representatives and ask that you kindly reply at your earliest convenience so that airline tickets may be purchased.

With loving Baha'i greetings,
Marie Scheffer
For the Office of the Secretary


To all those concerned:

Perhaps you don’t understand – we already view ourselves as no longer members of the Baha’i community and we regularly attend Unitarian and Buddhist activities.

We do not present ourselves as Baha’is and do everything we can, when people try to introduce us as Baha’is, to politely disabuse them of that perception.

We have not attended feast in over a year, or for that matter, any other official Baha’i activity.

I think that it would be best for all those concerned, that we simply be allowed to withdraw.

We are deeply disillusioned with the unofficial and official Baha’i views on the war in Iraq, with the rise of Baha’i fundamentalism and intolerance and with the growing “ghettoization” of the Baha’i community in general.

We increasingly feel unwelcome at Baha’i events where everything seems to be scrutinized by rather mindless “Ruhi Book” mentalities rather than thoughtful discussions of the Baha’i Sacred Texts.

One-size-fits-all mass theology serves to only alienate anyone and everyone who wishes to pursue spiritually inspired and independent investigations of the truth. There appears to be, these days, little room or toleration for Baha’i scholars, Baha’i scholarship, or thoughtful approaches to the Baha’i sacred texts.

We are outraged over the Kalimat Press decision! We are, therefore, increasingly embarrassed to be associated with the Baha’i community. We often hear from our colleagues in the academic world, that they too perceive the Baha’i community as increasingly becoming more and more fundamentalist, alarmist, and cultish.

We are not interested in talking to anyone from the National Center and we will not meet with them, even if they come to Norman. Please do not send your representatives to Norman.

Use the funds for their plane tickets to do some good at one of the Baha’i schools or to feed the homeless. Please let us get on with our lives. Your response only convinces us more completely that the Baha’i community has become an authoritarian and fundamentalist movement.

Most religious scholars’ perceptions of cults are that they make it difficult for members to resign or leave the community with their reputations intact – please don’t confirm our suspicions! Let us resign and withdraw quietly and without fanfare or with inquisition-like exit interviews. We are willing to leave the Baha’i community without recriminations, regrets, or active criticisms on our part. Please let us fade from the Baha’i community as gently and as quietly as possible.


Dann May and Phyllis Bernard
Posted by: New Yorker / 9/13/2006 12:03:00 AM

Dann May
Wimberly School of Religion, Oklahoma City University, accessed February 9, 2010.

Phyllis Bernard