The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: Michael McKenny <bn872@FreeNet.Carleton.CA>
Subject: Re: One area in which Liberty is Limited in the Baha'i Community
Date: Sunday, July 25, 1999 10:21 AM
Greetings, David.
    There are web sites with lots of data, if you are honestly interested
in data. The archives of this list contain some of the original documents.
    The history of my participation in Baha'i cyberspace goes like this:
I spent a year or so reading newsgroups as diverse as Australian SF, Soc.
Culture.Russian, Sci.Classics, some pagan ones, etc. keeping as eye once in 
a while on Soc.Religion.Bahai. Well, one day I read a petition there to the
UHJ asking that the UHJ publish more of the devotional and mystic writings of 
Baha'u'llah, such as the unofficial translations available on the Talisman
list. While the response on SRB was a thread about whether or not it was
permissable for Baha'is to write such petitions to the UHJ, (Since they
wrote petitions to Abdu'l Baha why shouldn't they write them to the UHJ?)
my reaction was to contact Steve Bedingfield, an old friend, whose name I
had seen on that petition, and ask him what was this Talisman and how could
one join.
    So, I came onto this "Baha'i" e-list looking for more of the mystical
and devotional writings of Baha'u'llah, and I walked into a brawl. The first
thing I saw was that there was one faction calling the other names and
another bunch of people trying calmly to discuss issues. So, on the basis
of more than a decade in amateur press publishing, (sort of a print version
of cyberspace's newsgroups and e-lists that's been thriving for more than a
century, and where at least in Ottawa we've well worked out some of the
rules) my first contributions to Talisman One, as it's now called, were to
go after people snarking, as we call it, to point out to this "Baha'i" list
that the non-Baha'is I've spent so much time with had worked out the rule
that while you could call the Prime Minister of Canada and everyone else
in the world whatever names you liked, the members of our hard copy list
were beyond such. In addition, in formal logic issues are important and
any references to personality, to the person who said something is invalid.
Further, what was being said, in a Baha'i context, accusations of playing
fast and loose with the Covenant, was something that lay solely in the
jurisdiction of the UHJ and individuals were to leave such to them. I
provided the appropriate quote.
    David, on the above principle, regulation of an Ottawa apa, which has
published every six weeks since 1984, I render you an open apology for 
anything I said to you which you found a personal slight.
    On the issue of the Stalinist nature of the UHJ, as opposed to what
was intended by the Glory of God, I continue.
    Now, at this stage I could look and see what were the issues being
discussed, why it was that "Baha'is" felt it necessary to call others in
their religion names, rather than talk calmly about issues. Well, the guys
being flamed were liberal arts university professors in favour of freedom
of speech, in favour of expressing a variety of personal views on issues,
in favour of a variety of views that are, in my personal opinion, the 
hallmark and sign of human progress to this stage of development, as
well as essential elements of the vision of Baha'u'llah for a future
global mature human civilization. And, the issues being favoured by people
flaming these professors were things such as censorship, etc. which are 
    And, then, came a quite staggering experience. Someone e-mailed me a
copy of the censored "Service of Women" paper. This thing was written in
the late 80s by a group (God loves those who work in groups) of the top 
Baha'i scholars. It demonstrated that the context of that supposedly clear
quote by Abdu'l Baha that women had to put up with their exclusion from the
UHJ was that more than 50 years before the establishment of the UHJ someone
in Chicago had written to Abdu'l Baha complaining about her exclusion from
the Chicago house of justice and Abdu'l Baha had replied that while she
could serve on this committee, that committee and the other committee she'd 
have to put up with being excluded from the general house of justice. Also,
in any case, the majority of the Baha'i writings, still kept untranslated,
includes quotes that in this day women are rulers/men (the same word as  
the rulers/men of the UHJ trotted out as further backing for an official
policy of discrimination within the Baha'i Faith.
     To make a long story short, as a result of posting views to this tiny
e-list (one or two hundred members would probably be a generous figure) 
university professors were phoned by Counsellors, told the Counsellors
wished to meet with them and then had Counsellors discussing these posts
and the orthodoxy of the opinions expressed and the necessity of keeping
silent in future. This is Stalinist, though to be fair to the communist  
USSR, they did not officially discriminate against women. So, in this sense,
the USSR was ahead of the UHJ. Some people on Talisman One were silenced.
Some people, under incredible harrassment were driven out of the Baha'i
     And, one idiot continued freely to express his views in the successor
lists that followed the list owner of Talisman One (who had faced enormous
pressure and posted an apologia as to why he was still remaining a Baha'i
that sent tingles up my spine when I first read it, precisely because here
was a liberal democrat writing as if he were in Stalin's Russia, but it
was the Baha'i UHJ which forced him to write as he did, and Baha'i was
intended to allow humans to reach above anachronistic patterns of thought
control. This and a vast amount of other material ought to be available
somewhere) bowing to pressure and disbanding the list. Michael McKenny
continued to post and to say that his saying what he thought without being
contacted by Baha'i authorities demonstrated freedom of speech in the
Baha'i Faith.
     And, one January day in 1997, Susie Tamas, an Auxiliary Board Member,
phoned to say that Counsellor Birkland had asked her to meet with me on his
behalf. Now being normal Canadians and normal Baha'is we didn't do this the
way Counsellor Birkland and some of those who've written about their 
sessions with him described those sessions. We had a pleasant and lengthy
chat, just the two of us. Susie had asked if she could bring Assistant Al
Wong with her. However, since I recalled the Feast where Al Wong had spoked
in favour of Communist China and said how a Western Baha'i, overcome by
emotion at being in the famous Tienamin Square, a place where hundreds of 
pro-democracy people had been killed, had sung some songs, Al had said the
Communist Chinese authorities had been told this person was insane, and
he'd been removed from China, on that ground, although I did not tell her
why, I declined her offer to have Al present at a discussion held in the
context of freedom of speech. Al Wong was appointed a few months later to
be Auxiliary Board Member to replace Susie Tamas.
      I told Susie Tamas that I had no complaints with the Spiritual
Assembly of the Baha'is of Ottawa or the National Assembly of the Baha'is
of Canada, but only with the UHJ. She invited me to write to the UHJ and
I sent preliminary versions of such a letter to her, and, finally, on
March 23, 1997, e-mailed a final version to the UHJ. I chose that date
as it was the birthday of one of my sisters (The rights of women were a
significant part of the intent of my letter) and also because I felt it
less likely the UHJ would respond fanatically after the Fast was over.
      The reply was relatively swift, within a month, I believe. But, all
it contained was repeats of the material which had prompted my letter, with
one possible exception, a statement from the Research Department that was
factually wrong. Both my letter and the reply are available, I believe,
in the archives of this newsgroup.
      I continued to post my views to Baha'i cyberspace, and without any
further warning there came a letter in the mail, at the end of July 1997
saying that the Canadian NSA had been informed by the UHJ that I could no
longer be considered a member of the Baha'i Community and so my name had
been removed from their membership roles. This I posted and for months
there was feedback, including other comments from the UHJ in response to
requests for clarification and to protests from Baha'is and non Baha'is.
The remarks by the UHJ have been provided some detailed analysis.
      This material and a lot more is available, some of it in the archives
of this newsgroup.
      The topic of the similarity of the UHJ to Stalinist authority has
been addressed somewhat in this post, and I'm sure if you look for material
both in the archives here and elsewhere on web pages etc. you'll find a
great deal. My only hope is that you'll see no future continuation of such
behaviour by the UHJ. If the Baha'i Faith is really going to provide any
real human harmony, this will not come by continuing to oppose the methods,
the essential Baha'i principles, Baha'u'llah provided for the achievement
of this goal. Although, the secret letter by the UHJ to the NSAs dated 
April 1999 re the Internet conspiracy, the consequent resignation of two
believers, one an Assistant, saying that, among other things, they
could not continue spying on fellow believers to see whether they had
approved thoughts or not, and that vacation message from Hooper Dunbar,
whose vacation ended on July 12, 1999, being received by Juan Cole and
several other members of a private e-list, of which Hooper is not a member,
make my hopes seem less likely of being fully realized in the near future.
      Nevertheless, I continue to believe that openness, even to the extent
of having this newsgroup, is moderating somewhat the behaviour of the UHJ.
                                                           To the Future,
"David Fiorito and Jennifer Spotila" ( writes:
> You just don't get it do you.  I am trying to discuss things I believe.  If
> it matches the "robotic" party line then that is just coincidence.  I am a
> free thinker willing to listen to all views.  You don't know me well enough
> to know who I am or what I think, or believe.  And I do not know you well
> enough either.  The point of a discussion is not to accuse or sling
> satirical mud around.  The point is to share information - pure data - and
> to examine it take it for what it is worth and process it for yourself.
"My name's McKenny, Mike McKenny, Warrant Officer, Solar Guard."
       (Tom Corbett #1 STAND BY FOR MARS p2)