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Judge's Transcendental Meditation Sentence Crossed the Line, Attorney Says

by Allie Martin and Jenni Parker
April 11, 2006
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(AgapePress) - - An attorney with the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy (AFA Law Center) says a circuit judge in St. Louis, Missouri, may have overstepped his authority when he sentenced a woman who plead guilty to voter fraud and drug possession to take part in a transcendental meditation program.

When Michelle Robinson pleaded guilty to 13 violations of election law and possession of crack cocaine and a crack pipe, Judge David Mason sentenced her to four years of probation for all charges. He also ordered her to get training in the Hindu practice known as transcendental meditation.

AFA Law Center attorney Brian Fahling is troubled by the judge's sentence. "Even if you don't regard transcendental meditation as a religion within the constitutional sense," he explains, "what you have here is a judge ordering an individual to engage in a practice that does have a spiritual dimension to it, and it intrudes on the heart and the mind."

Brian Fahling
What that means, Fahling says, is "you've got a governmental actor who's ordering an individual to participate in something that perhaps may run contrary to their own particular beliefs and belief system." Still, the attorney says he is not really surprised by the judge's order because it is consistent with a larger trend toward secularization that is progressing in America.

Transcendental meditation, of which Judge Mason is an advocate, is traditionally associated with Hinduism; however, it is practiced by members of many world religions and has become popular with adherents of New Age spirituality as well. Those who engage in "TM" are encouraged to clear their minds and sit in silence, with eyes closed, mentally repeating a simple sound known as a mantra, their objective being what practitioners call "pure consciousness."

The question of whether or not transcendental meditation constitutes a religion is one that is still being debated, even though those who say it is a religion can point to a wealth of prima facie evidence. The abundant proofs include TM's references to and use of Hindu astrology, terms, scriptures, and even ceremonies, including one in which practitioners are asked to get on their knees and bow before a picture of Guru Dev, a revered Hindu "enlightened" master.

A federal court has even weighed in on this debate. In Malnak v. Yogi (1979), a U.S. District Court ruled that under the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, transcendental meditation is too religious to be taught in public schools. Nevertheless, the practice continues to be promoted by advocates under the rubric of health and wellness and stress-reduction programs, and other attempts have been made to incorporate TM techniques into public schools and other institutional settings.

Christian Lawyer Sees in TM a Poor Substitute for Spiritual Truth
Fahling believes the persistent popularity of such pseudo-spiritual techniques is a by-product of spreading secularism in America -- the effect of a society that has largely rejected biblical truth yet still hungers for something to believe in. "To coin an old phrase, nature abhors a vacuum," he notes. "The nature of man, as Luther said, [is that] there's a God-shaped void in his heart.

"To the degree you take out Christianity as the predominant 'hole filler,' if you will, then something is going to rush in to fill that void," the pro-family attorney continues. "And so, certainly, it's not unexpected [that] we do see this increasing cultural embracing of anything else -- other than Christianity -- that has a spiritual dimension to it."

Among the primary appeals of transcendental meditation, according to proponents, is that it offers a scientific means of overcoming stress while conferring many physiological benefits. Critics, however, contradict this claim and point to studies and anecdotal evidence suggesting that TM may actually be hazardous to participants' health and psychological well being.

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