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The Bahá'í Faith

Controversial matters: Freedom
of expression; Internal divisions

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Freedom of expression within the Bahá'í Faith:

Although Bahá'ís have been very active in the promotion of freedom of expression around the world, there are significant restrictions on freedoms of individual Baha'i members. 1,2 These are enforced through shunning or expelling non-conforming adherents. Some examples are:

bulletGay males and lesbians in monogamous, committed relationships who have held union services to recognize their partnerships have had their religious rights removed. Similarly, heterosexual Baha'i couples who were married in a non-Baha'i ceremony have had their rights removed.
 
bulletThe Bahá'í authorities have imposed pre-publication censorship on all material written by members about the Faith. Until recently, all such material has to be first scanned by a review committee of the Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly of the country in which the text is to be published. This was a temporary policy introduced many decades ago. It was slightly modified in 2001-JAN for U.S. materials. Censorship responsibility has been transferred to local authorities. No changes have been made elsewhere in the world.
 
bulletThe "Talisman" mailing list was closed down in 1996-MAY, after several of its prominent academic posters were investigated at the orders of the Baha'i World Center in Haifa, Israel.  Several individuals, including the list owner, were allegedly threatened with being shunned ("coming into conflict with the Covenant") if they did not fall silent. 3 Baha'i authorities have denied that they caused the list to close. Juan Cole was one of those allegedly threatened. He resigned from the faith in 1996-MAY, but declared his private belief in Baha'u'llah in 1999-FEB.  He maintains a new Talisman list. 4
 
bulletThe Bahá'í electoral process in the United States does not permit public nominations or discussion of the candidates. This may be the reason why there has been no change in the nine person US National Spiritual Assembly since 1961, except for those caused by deaths, retirements, or a member leaving the country. Other National Spiritual Assemblies around the word do not exhibit this lack of turnover.
 
bulletMichael McKenny, a Canadian fantasy writer was expelled from the Baha'i faith because of views expressed in his Emails.

Divisions within the Bahá'í Faith

All religions evolve. It is quite normal for followers of established religions break away and form new sects. Many schisms are triggered by the death of the founder of the religion, or a successor. Typically, the leaders of the splinter group follow most of the beliefs and practices of their religion of origin. They generally regard their own faith group as being the true representative of the religion. In this way, most observers believe that the Bahá'í Faith arose from Islam, Christianity arose from Judaism, and the Mormons split away from Protestant Christianity. Sometimes, the breakaway sect becomes the dominant group. The Bahá'í Faith itself has experienced a number of schisms.

The founder of the  Bahá'í Faith, Baha'u'llah, selected Abdu'l-Baha to interpret the Baha'i writings after his death. Some members refused to accept the authority of the new leader. After the death of Abdu'l-Baha, the authority passed to Shoghi Effendi, "the infallible Center of the Baha'i faith," the "Center of the Cause," and the generally accepted sole interpreter of the Baha'i teachings. Again, some members refused to accept his authority.  After his unexpected death in 1957, controversy developed over his successor. One webmaster states that there are now 7 faith groups in the world who each claim to be the "true" Bahá'í Faith. Of the six new groups, five were created shortly after the death of Shoghi Effendi, The sixth broke off later. All of the new groups have extremely small numbers of members compared to Bahá'í Faith. All have been declared covenant breakers by the Universal House of Justice:

The Bahá'í Faith is followed by the vast majority of believers. In the United States, it is headed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States.  Authority once exercised by Shoghi Effendi is now transferred to the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel. Schismatic groups include:

bulletBahá'ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant recognized Mason Remey as the guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi. They have organized a series of International Baha'i Councils (IBC). They claim a membership approaching 144,000. Their Baha'i Center is located in Missoula, MT. This group has apparently splintered into five groups, following a series of excommunications and shunnings. 5,6,7
bulletFaith of God, (a.k.a. the House of Mankind and the Universal Palace of Order),  followed Jamshid Ma'ani. They "are no longer active (listed as 'defunct' in Gordon Melton's Encyclopedia of Religions)." 8
bulletThe Orthodox Bahá'í Faith," (a.k.a. Mother Bahá'í Council), follow Joel Marangella.
bulletThe Orthodox Baha'i Faith Under the Regency, follow Rex King.
bulletThe Charles Mason Remey Society, follow Donald Harvey and Francis Spataro.
bulletAnother dissident group organized around The Friends Newsletter.

Another group teaches that a Third Manifestation is coming in the immediate future -- not delayed for nine centuries or so, as current mainline Bahá'í teaches. See: http://alif.resonance.org 

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A lawsuit:

The main Baha'i body in the U.S., whose legal name is "The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States of America" (NSA), launched a lawsuit in 2006-NOV against Franklin Schlatter, Joel Marangella, The Provisional National Baha'i Council, the Second International Baha'i Council, and Baha'i Publishers under the Provisions of the Covenant. The NSA claims that these individuals and groups are using Baha'i trademarks and other indicica without permission. The case was decided in favor of the Orthodox Bahá'ís. The National Siritual Assembly has appealed the case. Hearings are scheduled for 2009-FEB-20 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. 9

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Fredrick Glaysher "The Bahai Faith and religious freedom of conscience," at: http://www.fglaysher.com/
  2. Material on freedom of expression within the Bahá'í Faith is available at: http://bahai-library.org/ and http://bahai-library.org/ An official response from the US National Spiritual Assembly to the latter item is available at: http://bahai-library.org/
  3. "Letter of Counselor Stephen Birkland to a Baha'i Academic: Imposing Fundamentalism as the Official Ideology of the Baha'i Faith" at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/ (Apparently offline)
  4. The new Talisman list is: talisman9@egroups.com at www.egroups.com
  5. "Northern Lights Baha'i," at: http://www.alaska.net/ *
  6. "Baha'i Faith web site presented by the second International Baha'i Council," at: http://www.montana.com/
  7. The official web site of The Baha'is Under the Provisions of the Covenant is at: http://www.bupc.org
  8. "The Baha'i Faith explanation of the 7 Churches addressed in the Book of Revelation,"  at: http://members.aol.com/
  9. "NSA Appeal," True Bahá'í, at: http://www.truebahai.com/  This is a temporary listing.

Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Bahá'í > here

Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2009-FEB-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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