Religious Cult Gets Plaque
At Statue Of Liberty
Park Service Violating First Amendment?
©1996 AANEWS by American Atheists

Graphic Rule

September 7, 1996

The National Park Service has installed a "peace" plaque linked to the Hindu religious cult figure Sri Chinmoy, who is touted by his followers as an avatar, master athlete, composer, writer, artist and strong-man. In a ceremony which took place on August 27, the brass marker was placed in the lobby portion of the Statue of Liberty; the Park Service, which administers the site, then sent out a press release titled "Statue of Liberty Dedicated as International Symbol of Peace," and presented a birthday cake (in the shape of the Statue) to Sri Chinmoy.

The ceremony and plaque are part of an international effort known as "Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossoms" -- public sites throughout the world which have markers with the cult leader's name. "Blossoms" include the Sydney Opera, Grand Coulee Dam, Mount McKinley, and even the city of Canberra, Australia, which has been officially declared as the "Sri Chinmoy Peace Capitol."

According to the current New York Times, the decision to permit installation of the plaque was made by Diana H. Dayson, Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty. The paper says that she was approached a mere six weeks ago by two members of the Sri Chinmoy sect "about dedicating the statue to world peace as part of the Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossom effort."

"While a request for a religious plaque would have been turned down immediately, Ms. Dayson said, the issue of world peace seemed apolitical and universal," added the Times. The two representatives then produced letters "from officials at other sites praising the project," and showed her a video about Sri Chinmoy.

The video shows the Hindu avatar (whom followers refer to as "Supreme") ostensibly lifting huge weights. Followers insist that Chinmoy "is capable of amazing physical and artistic feats," notes the Times, such as "writing 13,000 songs and 1,120 books ... (drawing) 5 million pictures of peace birds and lift(ing) 7,000 pounds with either arm."

The Chinmoy cult promotes a number of athletic events, including marathon running, hiking and scaling mountains.

A Religious Agenda

While the Statue of Liberty was meant as a symbol of liberty and freedom, the attempt by Chinmoy and his followers to promote "world peace" masks a distinctly religious agenda, and one based on a reactionary, oppressive religion. A 1994 interview with Sri Chinmoy which appeared in the publication "Hinduism Today" contains quotes by the guru, such as:

"To me Hinduism is a home ... "
"You are destined to serve God the creation ... "

The guru's actual name is Chinmoy Kumar Ghose. He was born on August 27, 1931 In East Bengal, India, where his father was employed on the railroad.

As a child, he wrote poetry and developed musical skills; the family reportedly worshiped the Hindu goddess, Kali. At age 12, he went into an "ashram" or religious training-temple, and two years later ostensibly experienced what the New Age Encyclopedia describes as "nirvikalpa samadhi", or "an experience of self-realization that included a memory of having had the experience before in a previous incarnation." In 1964, he left for New York, part of a wave of assorted Indian "holy men," mystics, delusional hucksters and con-artists which some Indian Rationalists and skeptics described as the "Karma-cola" invasion.

Chinmoy opened an AUM Center in New York City and began publishing a magazine; by 1970, other centers had sprung up throughout the country, and Chinmoy was even teaching "meditation" at the United Nations. A series of books and lectures followed, including "Eastern Light for the Western Mind" and Meditation: Man-Perfection in God-Satisfaction."

Chinmoy is also known for various "peace concerts", and has allegedly influenced the work of musicians like Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin. He has also managed to hold meetings (inevitably videotaped for the later consumption of followers and for use at his "concerts" and other events) with global personalities like the Pope and even Mikhail Gorbachev. His "concerts" by no means meet with universal approval, however; they are sometimes leafleted by small groups of Christian fundamentalists, and one performance was termed "A suck supreme" by a music critic.

Sri Chinmoy "peace runs" have taken place all over the world, at times attracting hundreds of athletic participants. The United Nations Press Office has ground out a steady supply of Chinmoy related publicity hand-outs, which describe the Hindu cultist as "an international ambassador of peace, who has dedicated his life to promoting peace and his vision of a oneness-world-family." One UN broadside noted that the relay races encompass "over 40,000 miles in 80 countries of the world."

Groups worried about cults and "totalistic" religions have expressed concern over Sri Chinmoy and his religious group. The former executive director of the Cult Awareness Network (which reportedly has recently declared bankruptcy following a series of costly litigations) told the Times that "They're (Chinmoy's followers) very good at enhancing their image, promoting themselves, linking themselves up to make themselves look very group." Cynthia Kisser added that "Sri is a holy name, so he's certainly giving the impression that he's religious. If he says he's not, I'd say that's hairsplitting."

The Times also talked to Dr. Marc Galanter, professor of psychiatry at New York University's School of Medicine, another cult expert. Galanter had just returned from a trip to Africa, where he had seen another Chinmoy "Peace Blossom" plaque at Victoria Falls.

"I think it was quite striking that they bore sufficient influence to have this installed in one of the major and remote sites on a continent several thousands of miles away from where their operation is carried out," remarked Galanter.

In Practice -- A Violent And Oppressive Religion

Despite offering an amalgam of vague promises ("world peace") and psychobabble, Hinduism is -- in practice -- one of the most violent and oppressive religious systems which humanity has had the misfortune to endure. In India -- the world's bastion of Hindu superstition -- rationalists and secularists are in an uphill battle against religious ignorance and superstition. The notion of re-incarnation has rationalized an ancient and oppressive "caste" system, women are treated as chattel property, Hindu sects battle each other, and there is growing violence and intolerance directed at Muslims and other religionists.

Ironically, while new-agers and mystics in the west are gushing with enthusiasm for Hindu religious crankery, rationalists in India are busy attempting to lift the masses of people there out a swamp of superstition and credulous acceptance of "god-men" and other religious charlatans.

Religious Babble Gratis The Park Service?

There is evidence that public officials who were approached by followers of Sri Chinmoy may have been ignorant of the Hindu leader and what his cult represents, or remarkably gullible. A spokesman for Grand Coulee Dam told the Times: "It was my understanding they (Chinmoy's representatives) were taking about international peace." Diana Davidson, the Statue of Liberty Superintendent, thought that the "issue of world peace seemed apolitical and universal," although she expressed doubts concerning the video she was shown.

"While I couldn't believe that he couldn't life all those pounds ... the video showed him lifting all those pounds," she told the paper.

But the religious-mystical nature of Sri Chinmoy appears to be clear in remarks ostensibly made during the dedication ceremony. One "student" of Chinmoy reportedly insisted that the leader be referred to as a "student of peace" instead of a guru, "to avoid unpleasant implications."

"Sri Chinmoy's is a message of self-transcendence," said a Dr. Agraha Levine.

" ... Sri Chinmoy feels each of us has a soul, each is a child of God -- we can find infinite compassion, infinite peace, infinite love ... "

Meanwhile, a disingenuous or gullible rationalization for the event was provided by a spokesman for the National Park Service who was "involved" in the planning for the plaque, according to the Times, which stated that "there had been questions about the group's orientation but they had been addressed."

Roger Scott of the NPS said that "In speaking with the group they say they are definitely not a religious group, just followers of Sri Chinmoy, who is an advocate of world peace. We felt it was a good, apolitical program to be associated with. The statue gets request by the score, and many have political connections that Parks would rather not be associated with."

Despite that statement by Scott, however, Superintendent Dayson "got an inkling of the 'spiritual cast' of the group, and the reverence in which followers held Sri Chinmoy," according to the Times.

Graphic Rule

An AANEWS Investigative Report

September 8, 1996

The "Dark Side" of Hindu-Buddhist-New-Age Pseudoscience

A former disciple of religious guru Sri Chinmoy -- the man whose followers persuaded the National Park Service to permit installation of a "peace plaque" at the Statue of Liberty recently -- left the inner circle of the Hindu group, and founded his own mystical organization which some have labeled the Rama "cyber cult."

That man is Frederick Lenz, a 56-year old meditation leader and mystic, who has insisted on being called Zen Master Rama, and claims to be the reincarnation of several powerful deities.

Yesterday, AANEWS reported that followers of Sri Chinmoy had approached the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty, Diana H. Dayson, an official with the National Park Service, several weeks ago to persuade that agency to permit the mounting of a "peace plaque" at the popular tourist attraction. According to the New York Times, Dayson was shown a video about the "spiritual" works of Sri Chinmoy and his group; a segment of that program showed the Hindu cult leader supposedly lifting thousands of pounds of weights. Other phenomenal deeds have been attributed to Chinmoy, such as composing thousands of songs, drawing 5 million pictures of "peace birds" and authoring over a thousand books. Chinmoy's group promotes endurance runs and marathons across the world. It has also attempted to gain international recognition by erecting commemorative plaques, known as "Peace Blossoms" at sites across the world, including the Grand Coulee Damn and Victoria Falls.

Cult awareness experts warn that the Sri Chinmoy group may appear to be relatively harmless, but that it is nevertheless a religion. Park Service spokesmen said that the agency ostensibly "addressed that question" prior to permitting installation of the "peace plaque" at the Statue of Liberty. The Agency hosted a dedication service on August 27, which included speakers who praised the Hindu religionist for his efforts on behalf of "peace." The Service reportedly also presented a cake to commemorate Sri Chinmoy's birthday.

But the benign image of "peace" may not tell the entire story. Mindless psychobabble, credulous acceptance of religious and pseudo-science doctrines such as reincarnation and other artifacts of "eastern wisdom" may leave certain followers vulnerable, mentally "mushed-out," and prone to manipulation by strong, charismatic leaders. It can also create what cult awareness experts warn is a "totalistic" environment.

One former associate of Chinmoy has allegedly created such a manipulative environment in the form of a so-called "computer cult." In the 1970's, Frederick Lenz became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, nearly a decade after the Hindu avatar left his native land and headed for more lucrative and spiritually-yearning territory in the United States. Chinmoy established a series of AUM centers, and was grinding out books, giving lectures, performing musical concerts, and had even ingratiating himself into the halls of the United Nations, where he led "meditation" sessions. He later reportedly became a close friend and confident of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Lenz was born in 1940 in San Diego, California; his family moved to Stanford, Conn. where his father eventually became mayor of the city. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut in 1974, and in 1979 obtained a Ph.D. in English at the State University of New York. According to sources including the New Age Encyclopedia, he became a devotee of Chinmoy during this period, and was given the name Atmananda; he also began conducting meditation classes.

Lenz was "sent to California by Chinmoy" in 1980, and opened a short-lived AUM meditation center in San Diego. He soon formed his own group, however, known as Lakshmi; according to the Encyclopedia, Lenz changed his name to Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu in 1985, and two years later incorporated Rama Seminars.

According to several sources, what began as a "small, relaxed group of people studying Eastern religions" evolved into an "effective mechanism for extracting large sums of money from the followers." Former associates of Lenz say that he became obsessed with power over others, and began to exhibit a number of standard control-tactics. These included orchestrated use of drugs, sexual manipulation, demands for money and other "loyalty tests", and reliance on what some described as "the increasing use of ambiguity and contradictions" in helping to formulate a mish-mash of occultist doctrine and personal self-help psychobabble.

In the late 1980's, there were intermittent periods of publicity as members left the Lenz group. Estimates of the number of followers has varied considerably, but there is thought to be a "hard core" or inner circle of 200-350 who have paid exorbitant amounts of money to Lenz for the "privilege" of his enlightenment. Lenz formed numerous corporate entities during this time; most of his new age outreach has been conducted through Advanced Systems, Inc. and National Personal and Professional Development Seminars, both of which boasted mail drops in New York's World Trade Center.

Lenz's teachings and seminars reportedly exhibited an ever-changing amalgam of new age, Buddhist, Hindu and occultish themes with tinges of pop-culture and dubious propositions such as "everything goes back to a grid." Tuition to participate in some seminars can run as much as $2,500 a month; and even members are frequently insulted, "dressed down" and berated by Lenz.

There have been a number of allegations that Lenz has placed special emphasis on the seduction and manipulation of female followers (another characteristic of many cults, including the Jim Jones "Peoples Temple" sect, AUM Supreme Truth, Branch Davidians, and eastern mysticism sects led by the likes of Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh).

During the 1980's, Lenz's seminars were advertised in national magazines and newspapers. The New Age Encyclopedia notes that the lavish displays showed Lenz "in expensive, fashionable clothing."

At least one anti-cult group accused Lenz of using his teachings to control every segment of his student's lives, including "dress, eating habits, what one does for recreation or relaxation ... their daily regime, their choice of automobiles, their attitudes toward health care and even their careers." It is this final category, though, of manipulating occupations which has given rise to the Lenz's moniker of being a "cyber guru."

This stage of evolution in Lenz and his mystical cult seems to correspond with Rama's own transformation, one which he said was marked by a transition from Vishnu, "Cosmic Preserver," into a disciple of Shiva, the Destroyer. One ex-member told Wired Magazine that Lenz insisted he was "an enlightened being from the Dark Side."

"Jesus was the nice guy, but the people he represents were tired of sending nice guys so they sent me instead."

Wired notes that in 1990, Lenz was insisting that he was "one of twelve enlightened teachers on earth, but refused to say who the other were ... "

Telling students they can "earn while you learn," new cult followers were reportedly pushed in computer programming and cyber-related occupations. Companies either controlled by Lenz or linked to his members "hired out" to other firms for computer-related services and systems consulting. Reportedly, "a handful of companies got burned" and there was a black list circulating among New York executives of Lenz-linked firms to avoid. In addition, members are excoriated about contact with "the outside world", included former friends, associates and relatives. "Lenz warns them (members) that a direct phone line is dangerous because it gives others an opening to one's energy. Instead, members maintain phone mail systems ... ," notes Wired.

Several published accounts say that while Lenz's followers endure a near-poverty existence, often with little more than a bed and computer, Rama himself boasts expensive homes, and flies across the country in private Lear jets. On tape, Lenz reminds devotees that "The more you give, the more people you can help ... It's that simple." He has also instructed them that they should never have more possessions than they can pack up and move in a car.

The activities of Lenz and his followers has been examined on NBC Dateline, and in articles appearing in publications such as Wired, the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, Santa Fe Reporter, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant and the Portland Oregonian. The titles of many of the articles are themselves revealing: "Yuppie Guru Finds Cash in Computers," "Zen Master a Fraud," "The Cosmic Seducer," and the even "California Raisins Bounce Back."

From Bad to Worse?

Much of the tone in these articles involves the contention that Lenz is best described in his own words -- a "dark side" of eastern mysticism, a "false" guru who left a "true path" of Hindu, Buddhist or spiritual teaching and was seduced by power and control. Such off-the-shelf pop philosophy masks the disturbing similarities, though, between seemingly benign new age religious movements and the more overtly authoritarian, manipulative cults.

There is considerable evidence that Hindu "Krishna" style groups are enjoying a renaissance, particularly on college campuses. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are reports of renewed interest in religious courses and mainstream Christian groups as well, part of a larger pattern where people seek "answers," "transcendence," or "inner peace" at the foot of a cross or the feet of a mumbling avatar.

Authoritarian movements of any kind can develop strategies to control followers, but religious cults appear to have some distinct characteristics. A report on the Lenz group, for instance warns of "mass-hypnosis techniques ... employing long, rhythmic trance-inducing monologues, vague language, meditation, hand manipulation, lighting and music that tend to make people more open to suggestion." Meditation itself needs to be considered in a cautious and critical light; there is considerable debate in the scientific community over its effects and benefits. The danger in meditation may rest with its social context, as a unifying ritual for a group, or an activity which promises unrealistic (or even outrageous) results. Various meditation gurus have claimed that meditation can result in the ability to levitate or fly, increased sexual potency, mystical powers and communication with spirits.

Religious cults also rely on the notion of a master, guru, avatar or other often charismatic figure who promises some occult, hidden knowledge through ritual. Often, that includes prolonged periods of chanting, praying, even repetitious labor or some other activity. Cults have been known to also manipulate the consciousness of followers by tampering with diet and sleep patterns. Followers are often warned to avoid contact with "outsiders" who are considered sinful, profane, unworthy or ignorant.

Additional Resources:

Those readers seeking more information on the "cyber guru" can find a number of Internet resources, including "The Code Cult of the CPU Guru" by Zachary Margulis which appeared in Wired Magazine. Check out http://www.hotwired.com In addition, www.ex-cult.org includes an informative report and bibliography. "The New Age Encyclopedia" edited by J. Gordon Melton (Gale Research Inc.) is an indispensable tool for understanding much of the "new-age" movement and personalities.

Graphic Rule

September 10, 1996

Sri Chinmoy isn't just a "spiritual" spokesman -- he's a religious leader.

Sri Chinmoy believes that he was Thomas Jefferson in a previous life.

And Sri Chinmoy is a "fraud" who insists that the god Krishna perched on his shoulders.

Those are just some of the revelations being made about the Hindu religious guru whose followers have placed a commemorative "Peace Blossom" plaque at the Statue of Liberty (and over 900 other locations across the globe).

The revelations are being made by Brie Waters, a co-founder and vice-president of the Atheists Students Foundation at the University of Maryland, College Park. Yesterday, Waters revealed that at one time she herself had been nearly "brainwashed" by the Sri Chinmoy cult, which has already claimed a close family member.

Waters admits that Chinmoy "does seem to want world peace," a major theme in his campaign to have commemorate devices placed at major tourist venues such as Australia's Sydney Opera House, the Grand Coulee Damn, Victoria Falls, and now the Statue of Liberty. "But the other face is that he (Chinmoy) is a fraud," charges Ms. Waters.

"He's very good at what he does because he never asks for money or material possessions as so many other fraudulent gurus do. "

Waters made other revelations which provide insight into the Jamaica-Queens, New York-based religious cult, among them:

"Your eyes start seeing double and your brain place tricks on you during meditation." The divinity of Sri Chinmoy is re-enforced even after the "meditation" ceremony, when followers are served "blessed food" or "Prasad." Adds Ms. Waters: "Each disciple goes up to the food with hands folded in prayer position and nods to the picture (of Sri Chinmoy) as they get the food."

Ms. Waters also has a different opinion than the one held by the Hindu guru's followers as to his talents in art and music. Chinmoy's devotees insist that he is a master musician, painter and poet, but Waters spared no words in saying that "As for his art and music, they suck. They're nothing but pain sponged onto canvas and simple, single melody lines that have the same themes from song to song." Indeed, one critical posting on the net about a Sri Chinmoy "concert" was unequivocal in referring to the event as a "Supreme Suck."

The Atheist activist also insisted that Chinmoy, who proclaims himself a "god-realized master," actually is "a religious leader with an agenda. Sri Chinmoy is a cult leader, and he brainwashes children and others."

While these activities strike rationalists as absurd and even denigrating to mentally-healthy, autonomous individuals, they clearly point to the religious and mystical nature of the Sri Chinmoy cult. These facts also raise questions about how thoroughly the National Park Services investigated Chinmoy and his followers prior to granting permission for the bronze "Peace Blossom" to be placed at the Statue of Liberty.

Brie Waters says that the plaque "is one more strike against having a secular government that the Founders worked so hard to achieve."

(AANEWS readers are encouraged to support the Atheists Student Foundation; check out their page on the world wide web at http://www.w am.umd.edu/~kaugust/asa.html Our thanks to Ali and Brie for bringing this news about Sri Chinmoy to our attention!)

Graphic Rule

American Atheists Press Advisory:

September 11, 1996

Efforts to have the National Park Service remove an unconstitutional religious plaque from the Statue of Liberty placed there in an official ceremony by followers of Hindu cult leader Sri Chinmoy continued yesterday and into this morning. Supporters of the campaign were asked to direct their comments to Marie Rust, the Field Director for the Park Service whose office is responsible for the famous monument. Press releases about the incident flowed out to the media yesterday, and Margie Wait of the American Atheist FaxNet reports that copies are also being sent to members of Congress.

As this issue of AANEWS is dispatched (September 11, 1996), another press advisory is being released by American Atheists, which include a letter sent to Ms. Rust by Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. It reads:

Ms. Marie Rust, Field Director
National Park Service
U.S. Customs House
200 Chestnut Street, Room 306
Philadelphia, Pa. 19106

Dear Ms. Rust:

American Atheists is concerned about the Park Service decision to allow the installation of a plaque by followers of Hindu religious leader Sri Chinmoy in the lobby at the Statue of Liberty. As an organization dedicated to the First Amendment separation of government and religion, we are distressed to hear that this device was dedicated in a ceremony on August 27, and included a presentation by your agency of a cake to commemorate Chinmoy's birthday. According to the New York Times, the decision to install a so-called Peace Blossom plaque at this national monument was made by the Superintendent of the site, Ms. Diana H. Dayson. The circumstances behind this move are disturbing.

First, according to the Times, Ms. Dayson was "approached" by followers of Sri Chinmoy a mere six weeks before the August 27 date, and shown a video ostensibly about this Hindu religious leaders. Included in this video were a number of questionable claims, and even a segment which supposedly depicted the guru lifting several thousand pounds with one arm (one of many miraculous and amazing feats his followers insist he is capable of). While Ms. Dayson expressed some skepticism about that she nevertheless thought that the theme of "world peace" was "apolitical and universal." The Times noted that "there had been questions about the group's orientation but they had been addressed." In truth, this plaque is simply another publicity stunt by Chinmoy and his followers. Nevertheless, we learned from the Times that to avoid any possible appearance of impropriety, Chinmoy was to be referred to as a "student of peace" instead of a guru, "holy man," religious leader or avatar, supposedly "to avoid unpleasant implications."

American Atheists suggests that one very definite "unpleasant implication" is that there has been not only an exercise in official gullibility by public officials, but a constitutional violation of the First Amendment's Establishment clause. In providing space for a plaque to Chinmoy and his followers, conducting a ceremony (complete with a cake) and public press releases publicizing this event, the National Park Service has entered into a situation of "excessive entanglement with religion."

Chinmoy is a self-admitted religious guru, a Hindu avatar who espouses the tenets of that religion including re-incarnation. The issue of world peace, while certainly admirable in a different context, is simply a ruse to gain official recognition for Chinmoy and his followers. Indeed, they have pulled this stunt in popular tourist venues throughout the world, including the opera house in Sydney, Australia, Mount McKinley and the Grand Coulee Dam.

We recognize the right of Mr. Chinmoy and his followers to practice their religion. But we also stress the importance of government agencies following the letter of law concerning the First Amendment and state-church separation. It is our contention that this "Peace Blossom," and the context of its dedication, constitutes a violation of said separation.

American Atheists asks that your agency consider the possible legal violation and implications of allowing this plaque to be erected, and maintained in the lobby of the Statue of Liberty. I would be most willing to discuss this matter further with you.

Sincerely,

Ellen Johnson, President
American Atheists

(Editor's note: Reportedly, today Wednesday, September 11, 1996, is going to be another busy day for Ms. Rust's fax machine at the National Park Service. AANEWS and Positive Atheism readers may wish to add their own opinions on this matter of intellectual skepticism, official credulousness, and state-church separation. The fax number is (215) 597-0815)

Graphic Rule

September 11, 1996

Are Park Service, U.N., Others Being "Suckered" By Huckster ?

Amidst claims of amazing feats by Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy, a number of competition weighlifters have questioned the statement that the religious leader has lifted up to 7,000 pounds with one arm.

The topic has been brought up again following a discussion during July and August in various weighlifting news groups on the Internet, since it was revealed that the National Park Service has dedicated a so-called "Peace Blossom" erected by Sri Chinmoy's group at the Statue of Liberty.

That decision has caused growing public outrage. In a series of press releases dispatched over the last 48 hours, American Atheists called for the removal of the plaque, stating that it violated laws to protect the separation of church and state.

The claim that the Indian guru lifted over three tons with one arm is only one of several that followers have made concerning the controversial religious leaders. Incredibly, a video shown to a National Park Service official prior to approval of the plaque claimed to depict this event; while the official, identified as site superintendent Diana Dayson was somewhat skeptical, she nevertheless considered the organization to be "spiritual," and considered the theme of the plaque to be "universal."

(Opponents of the plaque note that Sri Chinmoy's much-touted poetry contains vague and obscure reference to "Earth-heart's pinnacle-Divinity" and "Her Beauty's cosmos-fragrance-ride.")

Followers of Sri Chinmoy insist that in 1987, the guru hoisted weights of 3081 pounds and 7063 pounds in what were described as "one-arm overhead lifts." Although the weights were said to have been lifted only about half an inch, such a claim caught the attention of many powerlifters; in debate on news groups, many expressed skepticism about the claim, and others considered it an outright hoax. One lifter wrote:

"I have read several posts pertaining to this so-called lift and have looked at the pictures. I remain totally unconvinced that he (Sri Chinmoy) or anyone else could support 500 lbs over head with one hand, much less 7000+ lbs.... I must say that anyone who believes this has got to be living in LaLaLand. I have lifted weights for over 25 years and have never come across such a blatant attempt at chicanery. To believe that a human being can support over 7000 lbs with just one hand is utter nonsense, I don't care if the guy has a direct link to heaven, this is total BS ... "

Reportedly, no recognized competition powerlifter has ever even attempted a one-armed overhead lift according to one athlete who contacted aanews about this incident. A study of weighlifting records, however, suggests one of three possibilities:

Although aanews has been unable to ascertain Sri Chinmoy's potential weight class, a comparison with known records is enlightening. The latest Olympics included weight classes for athletes ranging from 54 kg to 108 kg. and over. In the latter category, Russian Andrey Chemerkin of Russia successfully lifted a mere 573.201 lbs. in the "clean & jerk" category. Powerlifters who were at the other end of the weight spectrum lifted amounts ranging from slightly more than 292 lbs to a range hovering near 400 lbs.

Of course, the "clean & jerk" is only a general comparison of human strength. But powerlifters seem to be highly skeptical of Chinmoy's dubious claim. In an August 28th posting, one weightlifter remarked that if this avatar "were capable of doing even close to what is claimed, he should report to Stanford (University) for anatomical study, since he would be pretty obviously super-human, both in strength and in structural integrity."

And what about that "structural integrity"? Men and women in yet another growing, competitive sport -- arm wrestling -- know that human muscle and bone can only exert or resist so much pressure. Bones have been known to break during such competitions which involve considerably less weight and force than what Chinmoy and his followers insist that the guru hefted.

"There is no middle ground to Chinmoy's weightlifting claims," wrote one lifter in a letter to aanews. "Either he is the greatest weightlifter ever to have walked this planet, or this one of the greatest sports hoaxes ever attempted."

What Else About Sri Chinmoy Should Be Believed?

Extraordinary, bizarre, extravagant and weird claims -- often of a paranormal, mystical or religious nature -- are offered every day. One good rule in evaluating such propositions is that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Such evidence appears to be lacking in the case of Sri Chinmoy and his followers. As "information consumers," the public would be only right in asking what other claims by this religious leader and his organization actually have any basis in fact.

Incredibly, Sri Chinmoy has persuaded public officials throughout the world to ignore some of his more bizarre claims, not the least of which is his reported insistence that he is the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson, or that the Hindu deity Krishna once perched on his shoulders. Those charges appeared earlier today in aanews, and were made by a former Chinmoy follower, Brie Waters, who is now Vice President of the Atheists Student Foundation at the University of Maryland.

Followers of Chinmoy have managed to erect over 900 so-called Peace Blossoms at major tourist venues throughout the world, often with the cooperation of public officials. Most disturbing was the fact that a video of Sri Chinmoy allegedly lifting thousands of pounds was presented to the National Park Service Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty, Diane H. Dayson, who according to the New York Times was somewhat skeptical, but nevertheless apparently saw nothing wrong with allowing the dedication of the disingenuous "peace" plaque. Shouldn't the magnitude of such an outrageous claim at least prompted the Service to take a closer look at Sri Chinmoy and his cult?

Indeed, cult awareness experts warn that brainwashing followers into uncritical acceptance of preposterous claims is an important step in "capturing" the loyalty and allegiance of others.

(Editor's note: Those AANEWS and Positive Atheism readers who are concerned about this state-church separation issue may wish to communicate with Marie Rust, the Field Director for the National Park Service. Her fax number is (215) 597-0815. Those of you who participate in the aachat news group may wish to share your letter to Ms. Rust with other readers.)

Graphic Rule

Campaign to Remove
Religious Plaque
Shifts To Interior Dept

September 13, 1996

The effort to have National Park Service officials remove a dedicated religious plaque from the Statue of Liberty shifted ground yesterday, as American Atheists took its case to the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbit. Mr. Babbitt heads the Department of the Interior, the federal agency which oversees the National Park Service.

Despite a torrent of faxes and letters, neither the Field Director for the NPS nor the site Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty has deigned to respond to Atheist and separationist concerns about a "peace plaque" erected at the famous American monument by followers of Hindu religious cultist Sri Chinmoy. As reported in earlier AANEWS dispatches, Chinmoy's followers approached Diana H. Dayson, the site Superintendent, with a proposal to erect a so-called "Peace Blossom" ornament; Ms. Dayson was shown an laudatory video about Chinmoy which made a number of claims, and purported to show the guru lifting several thousand pounds of weight with one arm. In a subsequent article in the New York Times, Dayson noted that while she was somewhat skeptical about that alleged feat, she nevertheless gave permission for the plaque to be erected citing the "universal" nature of peace. On August 27, the National Park Service conducted a dedication ceremony which attracted followers of the Hindu avatar, and even presented a birthday cake for Chinmoy in the outline of the Statue of Liberty.

American Atheists quickly noted that the real purpose of the "peace plaque" was to gain publicity and legitimacy for Chinmoy and his religious cult. AA President Ellen Johnson noted that at the dedication, followers (and presumably National Park Officials) deliberately avoided references to Sri Chinmoy as a religious leader, guru or holy man, instead referring to the Hindu cultist as a "student of peace." The Times quoted a Chinmoy representative who said that this was to "avoid unpleasant implications."

But Ms. Johnson noted in subsequent press statement that "among the 'unpleasant implications' is the clear fact that this is a religious group, Sri Chinmoy is a religious leader, and that this plaque constitutes a clear violation of state-church separation."

Yesterday, American Atheists voiced its concerns over this matter, and went another rung up the bureaucratic ladder, sending a fax to Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior. Ellen Johnson urged concerned non-believers and First Amendment separationists to follow the example, and fax Babbit their opinion on the Sri Chinmoy scandal.

New Questions, Implications Of Fraud

Meanwhile, there are new concerns about one of the more outrageous claims made concerning Sri Chinmoy -- that he lifted several thousands of pounds of weights.

Brie Waters, Vice President of the Atheist Students Association at the University of Maryland, expressed skepticism about that claim. Waters was once involved in the Chinmoy group, but despite leaving has already "lost" a family member to the cult. Earlier this week, she called Chinmoy a "fraud," and denounced the "peace plaque" as a violation of state-church separation.

"I've seen pictures of Chinmoy lifting what appears to be over 7000 lbs. How, the weights extend about 4-5 feet out on each side; that would bend the bar down at the ends. But the bar is actually resting on two loops suspended from the ceiling, so all Chinmoy does is reach up to the bar and lift it about two inches from the loops for about half-a-second."

Waters also noted that the guru "is also notorious for lifting famous people on a scaffolding contraption which works about the same way as the bar." The Atheist activist noted that she had seen Chinmoy allegedly life former boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard.

"He had a whole theme for these 'lifts', and even had his disciples sing a song called 'Lifting Up the World With a Oneness-Heart" while he (Chinmoy) attempted each lift. "

There are growing questions, however, about the veracity of these strong-man claims. Sri Chinmoy's followers circulate photographs of this remarkable lift, and claim that a number of international known powerlifters and bodybuilders have either "endorsed" the feat or "inspected" the photographs. But in at least one Internet newsgroup thread discussing Chinmoy's alleged accomplishment, it was admitted that "Even though they were not present, the photos were convincing enough for them."

"Photographs won't do it," noted one skeptical observer. "Even having 'seen' it does not support this extraordinary claim; just ask any magician how easy it would be to fool and audience, especially what I assume was an already credulous audience."

Currently, at least one newsgroup participant who is in touch with AANEWS is now investigating to see the internationally known powerlifters and bodybuilders quoted by Chinmoy's followers as having "inspected" this event (albeit only through photographs), are even aware that their names are being used. They include Frank Zane (three time Mr. Olympia) and Bill Pearl (five time Mr. Universe).

A Dubious Recognition?

One claim being presented by those who insist that Sri Chinmoy has lifted weights several times those of existing, comparable world records, is that the lifts have received "certificates" from "official" sources, included a group calling itself the American Powerlifting Federation. That organization purportedly issued a "certificate" for a Chinmoy lift of an astonishing 3081 lbs.

It states:

AMERICAN POWERLIFTING FEDERATION

This is to certify that
Sri Chinmoy
is a WORLD RECORD HOLDER

(This "certificate" is signed the by the Chairman)

But according to a critic of these claims, it is significant that the American Powerlifting Federation (APF) is not the well-known United States Powerlifting Federation. APF is "associated" with a Health Studio in Illinois, owned by the same individual whose signature appears on the "certificate" on behalf of Sri Chinmoy's record.

If Sri Chinmoy has indeed performed these remarkable physical displays, one would assume that his followers would find a better mechanism for convincing skeptics of the veracity of these claims. This should include:

Limits of Analogy

Often, it is precisely the lack of such controls that gives rise to controversy like that now surrounding the claims of Sri Chinmoy and his group. New athletic records are established constantly, but because there are sensible and stringent controls in effect, their veracity is usually not questioned. When there are concerns, a mechanism is already in place to investigate and, hopefully, resolve any complains.

But unfortunately, this is not the case with Sri Chinmoy. His group apparently has not taken the time and effort to have Sri Chinmoy's alleged feats of athletic prowess performed in a credible venue -- but they insist that others, including powerlifting professionals, "believe" or "accept" them, usually on the basis of problematic evidence like photographs.

There is the equally disturbing fact that Chinmoy's followers, at least in the newsgroups and statements being tracked by AANEWS, display many of the characteristics of those who make highly questionable yet unsubstantiated pseudo-science, mystical or religious claims. These include:

Begging the issue:

One Chinmoy partisan responded to questions about the veracity of claims by the American Powerlifting Federation by writing: "I invite Dan (or anyone else) to provide some substance for the claim of non-authenticity of this certificate..." With such reasoning, I could invent a fraudulent "space agency" to "certify" that I have visited distant planets. The issue of whether or not I had really done so is then subsumed in arguments over "what is an 'authentic certificate'." The real question concerns why Chinmoy and his group did not ask an established, reputable organization to oversee this alleged feat of athletic excellence.

Attacks on critics:

Practitioners of pseudoscience often attack critics for "persecuting" them. Hyperbole often accompanies descriptions of the alleged feat or achievement, and critics are portrayed in an equally unflattering light. Said one Chinmoy booster: "There is no question as to whether or not it is really a world record; it is a galaxy record. Sometimes people feel threatened by Sri Chinmoy's achievements because these achievements make them feel insignificant and inferior. Otherwise, they would recognize this to be the greatest lift in history."

Inappropriate and Dubious Analogies:

Pseudoscience advocates, especially those declaring that they have discovered "miracle" medical cures, often dismiss criticism by comparing themselves to historical figures whose theories challenged and replaced widely accepted views. The power of analogy can be seductive: one is asked to remember that "everyone once believed the earth was the center of the universe," or note that "Nobody believed Galileo." Presumable, these facts are then "transferred" on behalf of the person making any new, unpopular claim.

But arguments against helio-centrism, a flat-earth and other misconceptions prevailed not on the basis of "belief", or the enthusiasm of their proponents, but because they were testable, verified claims. If Sri Chinmoy is indeed lifting such incredible weights, it behooves him and his followers to eliminate any taint of suspicion concerning this wonderful feat. They should enthusiastically welcome objective, third-party observers and referees who could establish a controlled environment and document these new athletic records.

"Sri Chinmoy's weightlifting feats are like Roger Bannister's running," noted one Chinmoy partisan. "Everyone said that the 4-minute mile could not be accomplished. While Bannister was in medical school, all the experts and doctors said it was physically impossible, so many people never attempted to do a 4-minute mile."

There are several problems with this statement which suggest that Chinmoy's followers often do not check their facts. In truth, the prospect of "breaking the 4-minute mile" motivated a number of Athletes like Peter Snell, John Landy and Roget Bannister; and while some "experts" suggested that it was a feat which could not be broken, others disagreed.

The comparison with Bannister's record is either misguided or disingenuous. Unlike Sri Chinmoy, there is good evidence to show that Bannister did establish a record; the "4-minute barrier) was broken by Mr. Bannister during a track meet in Oxford, England on May 6, 1954 before numerous observers, including reputable judges and impartial athletic officials who clocked his run at 3 min, 59.4 seconds. Two months later, Australian John Landy shaved that timing to 3 min., 58 seconds. Coincidentally, Bannister retired from track competition in December of 1954, and practiced medicine. He, at least, was one doctor who did not consider a sub-4-minute mile to be a "physically impossible" goal.

Credibility, Motive, And Credulous Officials

While it is possible that Sri Chinmoy does indeed perform these astounding feats of physical strength, the burden of proof -- like the thousands of pounds of alleged weight -- rest on his shoulders, and those of his followers. In terms of establishing new records acknowledged by impartial judges and observers, though, Chinmoy has failed the test.

The need to impress followers with miraculous and/or astounding acts likewise raises questions about the motives of Sri Chinmoy and his group. One enthusiast in a newsgroup gushed that "Sri Chinmoy did not do this for the sake of records, he did it to inspire people." We might ask: For what?

Although the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty reportedly saw a video depicting Sri Chinmoy performing at least one of his alleged, incredible feats of strength, she expressed some skepticism -- but nevertheless was not compelled to examine the group sufficiently to discover its religious nature.

That fact, along with the decision of the National Park Service to engage in other inappropriate behaviors, raises serious questions concerning guidelines and procedures used by that agency in screening public requests.

This includes:

In its press releases about this matter, however, American Atheists President Ellen Johnson, and the group's National Media Coordinator, Ron Barrier, charged that those "unpleasant implications" involved the delicate and very real problem of state-church separation. The question of whether or not National Park Officials deliberate engaged in a campaign of deception on the issue of Sri Chinmoy's religious goals, or the religious nature of the group, need to be addressed promptly.

Finally, there is the equally disturbing question of public gullibility. While we can applaud Ms. Dayson for being suspicious about Chinmoy's weighlifting abilities, should that not have been a "red flag" prompting her, and her Service, to look more critically at the organization making the request for a display or plaque on public property? And shouldn't Ms. Dayson and the National Park Service have been suspicion when an apparently deliberate effort was made to refer to Chinmoy only as a "student of peace," and not some other title? If the New York Times was warned about "unpleasant implications," was Ms. Dayson?

AANEWS will continue to follow this story as it develops. In the meantime, those wishing to express their concerns over possible First Amendment state-church violations in this matter may wish to contact the following officials by fax:

Marie Rust, Field Director, National Park Service fax: (215) 597-0815
Diana Dayson, Superintendent, Statue of Liberty fax: (212) 363-8347
Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior fax: (202) 208-6956
Those wishing to talk to Mr. Babbitt's office should call: (202) 208-7351

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Muscle Guru
Schmoozed With
John Paul II

"$6,000,000 Guru'' Met with Pope

There are "Peace Runs," "Peace Blossoms," and now the "Peace Torch."

And they are all ways of attracting publicity for Hindu religious leader Sri Chinmoy, whose followers recently erected a controversial "Peace Blossom" plaque at the Statue of Liberty.

Cult awareness activists, state-church separationists and other critics say that all of these are just schemes to gain publicity and credibility for Chinmoy, who also insists that he has performed incredible athletic and artistic feats such as lifting over 7000 pounds of weight with one arm.

But the National Park Service -- the federal agency which approved a request from Chinmoy's followers to erect a "Peace Blossom" plaque -- isn't the only agency which has been enamored of the Hindu cultist. In July, 1995, Sri Chinmoy passed a flaming "Peace Torch" to none other than Pope John Paul II during a weekly public audience with the Pontiff in St. Peter's Square, Rome. The Pope was greeting participants in yet another Sri Chinmoy activity, a "Peace Run' that attracted athletes from Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the United States and elsewhere.

The marathon was officially publicized as the "Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run," an event first organized in 1987.

At the official "Peace Run" home page, browsers are informed that the event "has been endorsed by many of our nation's Mayors, Governors, and Members of the U.S. Congress, as well as four-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis..." The opening ceremony takes place at the United Nations, where Chinmoy holds "meditation" sessions for officials.

Chinmoy reportedly addressed the Pope, saying: "Holy Father, we are offering our hearts' prayerful gratitude to you for so compassionately blessing this Peace Torch which will be covering 70 countries."

Other supporters of the event were listed, including "many Heads of State and World leaders such as Mother Teresa, former President Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth."

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First Amendment Wins!
Park Service Removes
Chinmoy Plaque!

"A Victory for State-Church Separation," Says American Atheist President

The National Park Service has removed a religious plaque at the Statue of Liberty associated with the Hindu cult of Sri Chinmoy. The action comes after nearly two weeks of protests, including letters, faxes and public media releases by American Atheists and concerned First Amendment allies. Ellen Johnson, President of AA, praised the action, and said "This is an important victory for state-church separation; it re-affirms the principle that religious markers, facilities or graffiti have no place on public property, especially at an important monument like the Statue of Liberty."

Johnson added that "while the sign may seem innocuous to some people, the organization behind it is religious. It's a publicity stunt using a national monument to gain notoriety and promote their religious agenda and the quackery of Sri Chinmoy."

Johnson also expressed skepticism that the "Peace Blossom" really had anything to do with peace. ''You can put up 10,000 peace plaques around the country, but how is this going to really make the world a better place? We know that this self-promotion for Sri Chinmoy has nothing to do with peace." The controversy began in early July when followers of Hindu religious guru Sri Chinmoy approached the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty, asking that a so-called "Peace Blossom" plaque be erected at the monument. A National Park Service official, Diane Dayson, then viewed a promotional video about Sri Chinmoy, which included a segment purporting to show him lifting over 7,000 pounds with one arm. Followers of the avatar boast of their leader's athletic prowess and alleged other abilities as a poet, artist, musician and philosopher.

According to reports in the New York Times, while Dayson was "skeptical" about Chinmoy's fantastic weight lifting feat, she decided to authorize the plaque, considering its theme of "peace" to be universal.

On August 27, the National Park Service held an official dedication ceremony at the Statue of Liberty, which included followers of Sri Chinmoy. It was agreed that during this event, Sri Chinmoy would be referred to only as a "student of peace" rather than a quack, religious leader, or cult figure "in order to avoid unpleasant implications." After learning about the plaque, American Atheists promptly called upon the National Park Service to remove it as a clear violation of state-church separation. In press releases and other statements to media, AA officials noted that the marker was clearly religious, and involved the National Park Service in the promotion of a religious group.

Ms. Johnson informed Park Service officials that the plaque was another "publicity stunt" by Chinmoy and his gullible followers, and that "among the 'unpleasant implications' is the clear fact that this is a religious group, Sri Chinmoy is a religious leader, and this plaque constitutes a clear violation of state-church separation." She also cautioned officials at the Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior to consider the "possible legal implications and consequences" of erecting a religious marker on government property.

According to the New York Times, Parks Service spokesman Manny Strumpf said "The plaque is down and it will remain down unless or until it is approved by the director. And I don't see that happening in the near future."

Strumpf noted that "A review of National Park Service policy indicated that the authorization for the placement of a plaque has to come from either the director of the Park Service or from Congress."

The Times noted that the plaque "has been removed after a review by the National Park Service."

Earlier this evening, American Atheists National Media Coordinator Ron Barrier issued a statement, saying "It is unfortunate that the district superintendent had to review National Park Service policy after the controversy. This raises serious questions as to who exactly knows park policy, and what other violations have occurred due to 'policy ignorance'." Barrier promised that "American Atheists will be vigilant against any and all attempts to blend our government with any religious cult, large or small."

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A Word of Thanks
from AANEWS

It's been a long day ... it's late, but even at this hour victory is sweet.

Let us take this opportunity to thank all AANEWS readers who faxed public officials with your concerns about the bogus "Peace Blossom" plaque erected at the Statue of Liberty. You have made possible an important victory for First Amendment State-Church separation.

What's in a plaque about one-foot square? Actually, a great deal. One reason why American Atheists was concerned about the Sri Chinmoy incident was that it involved a possible "gray area" concerning the Establishment Clause.

The Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty claimed that she authorized the plaque, in part, because it was "not religious." As American Atheists pointed out, though, there were other legal considerations the Park Service needed to be aware of.

Under court rulings which delineate what state-church separation is all about, there is an important finding involving the case Lemon v. Kurtzman. From this comes the famous "three-pronged" test, which naturally has become a major target for religious groups seeking to erode the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The "Lemon" or "three-pronged" test states that government

At least one Park Service official declared that the Chinmoy plaque was somehow "not religious." The effect of the plaque, however, combined with an official dedication ceremony orchestrated by the Park Service -- and a blatant attempt to disguise the purpose and theme of the ceremony by avoiding religious references -- was to clearly advance a religious organization, namely the group presided over by Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy.

As Atheists and First Amendment state-church separationists, we don''t deny that any religious group -- include cults that believe their guru can lift enormous amounts of weight or perform other questionable feats -- should enjoy freedom of religion. Pick up the phone book for any major metropolitan area, and you will find dozens, even hundreds of listings under the heading "churches" which list places for religious people to meet. There, they may dance, pray, sing, chant, burn incense, gyrate, kneel, bow, genuflect, prostrate themselves, donate money, light candles, play music, wail, keep silent, read from holy books, and do just about anything else they feel is necessary to appease the god or gods of their choice -- on their own time, and at their own expense.

The First Amendment also gives us freedom from religion. There should be no religious test, for instance, for public office, or the exercise of other rights. One should not be compelled to support a religion; one should not be forced to participate in religious ritual either.

It is the position of American Atheists that public property, including our national monuments, schools and other government institutions, must be religion-free. Taxpayers should not be forced to support religious billboards, displays, monuments or activities.

The Sri Chinmoy "Peace Blossom" is ultimately no different than, say, a nativity scene or some other religious display. It has no proper place at the Statue of Liberty.

Ask yourself why a religious group -- such as the followers of Sri Chinmoy -- would want to erect their publicity "peace plaque" on government land, and at such an important venue. American Atheists has maintained that such public statements of religious belief, when deliberately tied to government edifices, serve simply to legitimize and sanction religion.

So, pat yourselves on the back. We may again have to again flood the Park Service with hundreds of faxes and phone calls should they suddenly decide to sneak the Sri Chinmoy plaque back into the State of Liberty, or perhaps allow some other religious display. But for now, that Wall of Separation is a little stronger -- because so many of you made the effort to speak up.

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Parks Official Says
Plaque Doesn't
Meet Guidelines

It's Official -- Hindu Religious Plaque Inappropriate, Says NPS

The Field Director of the National Park Service has finally told us what we already knew -- a religious plaque erected at the Statue of Liberty by followers of Hindu cultist Sri Chinmoy shouldn't be on public property.

In a letter dated September 30, Marie Rust of the Department of the Interior informed Ron Barrier, American Atheist National Media Coordinator that "this plaque does not meet our policies regarding permanent plaques in our National Parks and the plaque has been removed."

The flap began in early September following news reports that a so-called "Peace Blossom" had been installed in the memorial lobby at the Statue of Liberty. The "blossom" was a plaque erected by followers of Hindu religious leader Sri Chinmoy; it was dedicated at an official ceremony involving cult believers and National Park Service officials. During the August 27 ceremony, deliberate efforts were made to refer to Chinmoy only as a "student of peace," not a huckster, religious leader or cultist, "to avoid unpleasant implications" (New York Times).

News accounts also revealed that Chinmoy's followers approached the Park Service a mere six weeks before, and showed the on-site Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty -- Ms. Diane H. Dayson -- a video extolling the virtues and prowess of the Hindu avatar, including a segment which purportedly depicted him lifting several thousand pounds of weight with one arm. (Chinmoy's groupies have made a number of extravagant claims, and have achieved some dubious athletic feats such as records for underwater pogo-stick jumping. They also host a number of marathon running events on behalf of "world peace.")

American Atheists promptly filed a protest with the Park Service. Ellen Johnson, AA President, contacted Ms. Marie Rust of the NPS noting that "one very definite 'unpleasant implication' is that there has been not only an exercise in official gullibility by public officials, but a constitutional violation of the First Amendment's Establishment clause." Johnson urged government officials to "consider the possible legal violation of allowing this plaque to be erected."

American Atheists also launched an appeal for members and supporters to protest Chinmoy's latest religious publicity stunt; hundreds of faxes, phone calls and e-mails poured into the offices of the National Park Service and Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt. Word that the plaque had been taken down broke several days ago, and Rust's letter to Mr. Barrier is the first official confirmation of that decision. Rust noted: "After consultation with Superintendent Diane Dayson, Statue of Liberty National Monument, the National Park Servioce has concluded that this plaque does not meet our policies regarding permanent plaques in our National Parks and the plaque has been removed."

Other Violations ?

AANEWS asks readers to keep us informed of other similar violations, particularly "Peace Blossoms" which have been erected on government property. There are over 900 of these monuments and plaques throughout the world, many of them at popular tourist venues, and many erected on public property. We are concerned with any "blossoms" on U.S. or State property in the United States. Please contact us (aanews@atheists.org) if you have any further information on this.