According to Opinion/Editorial letters within the Salt Lake City Tribune, freedom of speech is doing fine in Utah.

One writer claims, “I am convinced that Mormons value free speech as much as other lovers of the Bill of Rights.”

But do they?

The writer is actually commenting about “free speech” within a closed system. That is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) speaking amongst themselves.

However, the real test of being “lovers of the Bill of Rights” seems to be the city block in downtown Salt Lake City adjacent to the Mormon Temple built by Brigham Young.

If Mormons really wanted to demonstrate how they “value free speech” they would allow all voices to be heard, which obviously includes non-Mormons. But apparently the church hierarchy and its obedient faithful have no intention of doing so.

A non-Mormon also commented with the Tribune and pointed out that simply passing out tracts with another religious viewpoint resulted in arrests near Temple Square.

Does this sound like a democracy or a theocracy?

No matter how LDS leaders try to spin this one it’s abundantly clear that they have set limits to both religious tolerance and free speech in Utah. And the Constitution has nothing to do with it.

Ironically Mormonism, which has been called the “most American religion,” doesn’t seem to appreciate the simple truths and values that has made the United States a great nation.

Karen Robidoux says she was “brainwashed” by her husband to cooperate in the starvation death of her one-year-old son Samuel.

Robidoux is charged with murder and was expected to stand trial early next month. But now that date has been bumped pending a psychological evaluation reports WMTW News in Massachusetts.

Robidoux’s husband Jacques has already been convicted of murder and is serving an automatic life sentence.

Karen Robidoux and her attorney have decided upon a risky high stakes courtroom strategy that is likely to fail. It is doubtful a jury will have much sympathy for the cult brainwashing defense.

No doubt Robidoux, like other members of the group known as “The Body,” experienced a mental transformation through coercive persuasion. But with the death of a baby as a consequence, whatever sympathy exists will be vested in the mother’s victim and not her mental suffering.

A better courtroom strategy would be to seek the best plea bargain possible and hope that the claim of cult brainwashing would somehow soften her sentence.

Maybe the prosecutor offered Robidoux and her lawyer nothing and she now has nothing to lose?

The Reserve Bank of India has notified the police that Amway in India may be violating certain laws regarding a “money circulation scheme,” reports Siffy News.

Amway denies its actions are in violation of Indian law. An investigation will take place.

Historically, many Amway distributors in the United States have lost money or barely made minimum wage for their time. Some say that Amway is really more about making money from recruiting people to become distributors, as opposed to selling products.

The organization, which is a multi-level marketing scheme, has drawn frequent complaints, bad press and often-contentious litigation.

Nevertheless, Amway has made its two ruling families, the Devos and Van Andel clans, billionaires.

In recent years sales and recruitment for the company have slowed in the United States. In an apparent effort to improve its sagging situation Amway launched Quixtar on the Internet and also moved into international markets.

However, Amway has encountered resistance in China and Quixtar doesn’t seem to be doing that well.

If Amway is exploiting the citizens of India in some way, which is certainly not an affluent country, the company may have hit a new low.

Jessica Crank died in August at the age of 15 from Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. She had a tumor the size of a basketball on her shoulder, but her mother did not seek meaningful medical care, despite repeated advice to do so by professionals.

Instead, Jessica’s mother Jacqueline Crank apparently preferred the advice of her spiritual mentor “Ariel Ben Sherman,” a man previously charged on five counts of child abuse.

Sherman and Crank subsequently faced felony child abuse charges for the girl’s death.

Commenting in court the District Attorney said, “The failure to seek medical care early on did, in fact, advance the sarcoma to the point where Jessica, after much pain and suffering, died,” reported Knoxville’s News-Sentinel.

However, Sherman seems to have escaped justice a second time. A judge in Tennessee ruled that the girl’s agonizing death only merited a “misdemeanor,” reports The News-Sentinel.

The maximum sentences the mother or Sherman now face is less than a year in jail. Based upon the judge’s reaction to the case, perhaps they may only receive probation.

It is outrageous that a child’s life has been valued so cheaply. But according to Tennessee’s Child Abuse and Neglect statute, parents who only pray for their children rather than seek medical care cannot be prosecuted.

Ironically, if Jacqueline Crank had never sought any medical advice it is likely that all the charges against her would have been dismissed.

This case is proof that in Tennessee a parent’s supposed “religious rights” supercede the health and welfare of a child.

Phyllis McCarthy was once a leader at an Oregon cult compound called “Rancho Rajneesh,” where she was known as “Ma Yoga Vidya.” Now “Ma” is a “psychotherapist” in South Africa.

But the former follower of deceased guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had to face her past this week in an Oregon courtroom as part of a deal she struck with prosecutors, reports The Oregonian.

McCarthy will begin serving a one-year sentence next month for her role in a murder conspiracy to assassinate a government official. It seems she will be the last “Rajneeshie” to face justice, a notorious cult that terrorized Oregonians during the 80s.

Maybe this is a year for tying the loose ends of old cults?

Last month “Sybionese Liberation Army” (SLA) members were in court too. Fugitives from that 70s cult entered into plea bargains much like McCarthy in exchange for light sentences. One member of the SLA was also hiding in South Africa.

McCarthy, like former SLA members, appears to regret her past. She said, “My trust in people and my sense of loyalty was my weakness.” Referring to the trust she placed in her dead guru and his top lieutenant and enforcer “Ma Sheela.”

However, when cult members commit crimes that threaten the safety of others, misplaced trust is not a very viable legal defense. And in cases where innocent lives have been lost, hard time behind bars is frequently the outcome. Charles Manson’s followers found that out.

Fortunately for McCarthy she never completed the murder plot. But her intended victim wasn’t so forgiving. He said her sentence was “laughable.”

What’s not “laughable” is that Rajneesh or “Osho” as he is now often called, still has followers, who unlike McCarthy have never ceased in their devotion to the guru. Despite the revelations about his crimes the guru’s old ashram in India has become something of a shrine.

Apparently, to these die-hard devotees such loyalty is not a “weakness.”

A church with a troubled history in Spindale, North Carolina won’t return the minor children of a former member, reports The Herald-Jornal.

The “Word of Faith Fellowship” has been called a “cult” and is led by Jane Whaley. Former members say Whaley rules over her flock like a dictator, reports The Daily Courier.

Shana Muse left the group in September and eventually sought help through a mental health facility established for recovering cult members called “Wellspring Retreat.”

But church members under Whaley’s control persuaded Muse to leave her four minor children behind. They even drafted a document to essentially take possession of the kids. It is doubtful that such an agreement apparently made under duress is legally binding.

However, legal authorities in Spindale, a small community that includes 400 of Whaley’s followers, have chosen so far to do nothing. They have refused to assist the mother who wants to pick up her children. Something of a standoff has developed, as Ms. Muse refuses to leave town quietly without her family.

The very idea that a church organization could exercise such power over a family is outrageous. No matter what the District Attorney and police say in Spindale, there is nothing that can rationalize their failure to reunite this family.

The flimsy agreement cited by church members cannot possibly trump a mother’s right to exercise existing legal custody over her own minor children. It is unthinkable that Whaley or her church somehow has the power to supercede this mother’s rights.

As the machinery of due process grinds at a snail’s pace in Spindale perhaps Whaley’s people can be understood, after all they are “cult” members under the influence of a charismatic leader. But what about the behavior of the civil authorities who are certainly not “brainwashed”?

There is no excuse for public officials standing idly by and not helping this mother. After all, it’s their job isn’t it? And by not fulfilling their designated duties they are simply enabling Whaley by default.

Since the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995 another band called the Phish seems to have filled the void left behind by the Grateful Dead.

The cult following known as the “Dead heads” that once wandered nomadically from concert to concert devoted to Garcia’s band have been replaced by the “Phish heads.”

Phish concerts are typically sold out far in advance due largely to the phenomenon of their cult following.

For many fans the Phish have taken on an importance usually reserved for religious devotion. Chris Hedges mines this mystery in his article “A Quest for Rapture Leads a ‘Phish Head’ Astray,” recently run in the New York Times.

But one aspect of both the Grateful Dead and “Phish head” phenomenon that has not been reported about is the often well-organized effort by groups called “cults” to recruit amongst the rock bands faithful.

Recognizing the vulnerability of nomadic youth searching for meaning some “cults” seem to think proselytizing at concerts is like “shooting fish in a barrel.”

Or is that “Phish heads” in a barrel?

Some groups called “cults” that once followed the Dead and/or now go Phishing are Krishna, Twelve Tribes and the Chabbad Lubavitch.

So as “Phish heads” continue to follow their beloved band, some might ultimately be caught by another group altogether.

One concert might just be the last for some unlucky “Phish heads,” unless they are later sent out to go Phishing too.

At first Rocky Anderson, the non-practicing Mormon mayor of Salt Lake City, took a brave stand. The politician said he would not bow to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) regarding an easement the church sought to squelch free speech near its temple property.

That easement allows critics of the church to speak freely on the block the church recently bought from the city. But it seems the LDS doesn’t appreciate the First Amendment when it guarantees the rights of others to criticize them.

First the church fought in court to restrict activity on the property, but when that effort failed they used some old-fashioned theocratic muscle by inciting their loyal members.

Anderson was subjected to increasing pressure from his Mormon constituents to give up the easement and capitulate to LDS demands.

The mayor resisted, but now he has apparently caved in. A deal is in the works to trade the easement for land the church owns elsewhere in the metro area, reports the Billings Gazette and Desert News.

So much for the illusion that church and state is somehow separate in Utah.

Apparently things really have not changed that much since the days of Brigham Young. The Mormon Church seems to have a stranglehold on the state, or at least ultimate veto power over anything that draws its interest.

The mayor may have held out for awhile, but ultimately Rocky crumbled. That’s life, behind the “Zion Curtain.”

Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and Republican legislator David Duke of Louisiana will soon be entering prison.

The itinerant preacher of hate and peripatetic fund-raiser used his supporter’s contributions to fuel a non-stop gambling binge.

Duke quite literally sold his fellow bigots out. He sold a mailing list of his supporters and didn’t bother to report the income.

After returning from a European speaking “tour,” which some might see as a delaying tactic regarding pending criminal charges, Duke quickly worked out a deal with prosecutors and plead guilty this week to mail and tax fraud, reports The Scotsman.

He will begin serving a 15-month sentence in March.

Some inmates are likely to feel Duke’s rant about “white survival” is offensive. The former Grand Wizard may find it necessary for his personal “survival” to serve time in protective custody.

Wearing a hood just won’t work this time.

Claude Vorilhon who now calls himself “Rael” is the founder of the “Raelians,” a strange group based largely upon the supernatural claims made by its leader.

Rael seems to also have a supernatural appetite for publicity.

Press releases have become something of a religious ritual for the Raelians. They have engaged in often sensational behavior, which apparently is designed to attract attention. This has included and embassy to receive outer space visitors, a cross burning campaign and now it seems cloning claims.

When Rael created “Clonaid,” a company supposedly focused upon producing human clones, it was considered by many to be little more than a mail drop used as a fund-raising ploy.

But now it looks like this strange “cult” is about to produce what it says is the first “human clone,” reports the Canadian Press.

Scientists have dismissed the announced birth date as unlikely.

Certainly, whatever Rael/Vorilhon says must be taken with more than a little skepticism. The “cult” leader claims he once met little green space aliens that took him to another planet where he was introduced personally to Jesus.


And one Raelian told the Canadian press that “The Virgin Mary was impregnated by extraterrestrials.”

Uh huh.

This much is for sure, Rael’s devoted followers will believe anything he says. However, the rest of the world should objectively test and verify any claim made by this supposed space traveler or the company he funds. Rael has previously refused to provide proofto substantiate his cloning claims.