Several Christian organizations have joined in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, which is appealing a court ruling that the Hindu sect caused emotional distress to the parents of a former member. The Krishnas are also facing a judicial order, temporarily stayed this week, to sell five of their temples to satisfy a $5-million judgment in the case.
"The survival of a whole religious movement may be at stake," said the brief filed Tuesday by the National Council of Churches, among others.
Orange County Superior Court Judge James A. Jackman has ordered the sale of the Krishna properties, including the sect's western world headquarters complex in Los Angeles, to fulfill the judgment in a suit brought in 1977 by a Cypress woman who claimed that her 15-year-old daughter was kept hidden by the sect. The suit by Marcia George and her daughter, Robin, accused the Krishnas of false imprisonment and emotional distress.
"Multimillion-dollar suits for punitive damages and emotional distress have become the principal instrument of religious persecution in America," said James A. Hamilton, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "Lawyers inflame juries to hatred of unfamiliar religions and then ask them to award millions of dollars for emotional distress."
In addition to the National Council, groups joining in the brief include the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Church of the Brethren, General Conference of the Mennonite Church, Unitarian Universalist Assn. and several Hindu and human rights organizations. The National Assn. of Evangelicals has also filed a brief in support of the Krishnas.
Krishna leaders have staged a series of vigils and protests around the world this year, claiming a breach of religious freedom, including a three-hour prayer vigil Tuesday near the Federal Building in Westwood.
The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it granted the sect's request for a delay on the property sales until the justices decide whether to hear the appealed case.
Sect officials say that their temples in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, San Diego and Laguna Beach are in receivership, although some other combination of assets could be sold to satisfy the court judgment.