If you read TMFB regularly, you are probably well aware that the general counsel for the David Lynch Foundation warned me about potential legal action against me and others -- 10:30 pm the night before my planned Web Event to protest Lynch's push to teach Transcendental Meditation in public schools. I believe teaching TM in public schools to be a clear violation of Church and State because of TM's religious trappings. And I believe the DLF's actions were intended to intimidate we critics into silence.
Out of concern that my co-panelists should not be dragged through legal entanglements, I canceled the Web Event. (For background, here is an email from DLF listing the schools they are already in, here are some details on the the planned web event, here is the email DLF sent me less than 24 hours before the Event.)
This is what I learned from the experience. First, the TM Org is drastically changing the rules of the game. Mike Doughney, Joe Kellet, I, and others have been publishing our opinion and source documents criticizing the TM Movement for nearly 15 years. During that time, there was hardly a peep from TM's lawyers. But just over a year after the Maharishi's death, it appears that they may be contemplating going after Internet critics with legal threats and intimidation. Second, I realized that the days of individual, wild-cowboy criticism are threatened and may be coming to a close. To continue, it appears we will need to set up legal defense funds and purchase liability insurance.
The unfortunate thing is that, in America, justice tends to belong to those who can pay for it. I believe we critics have an absolute, constitutionally protected right to express our opinions and share information that, while perhaps embarrassing to the TM Org, is in no way defamatory. In an ideal world, the TM Movement wouldn't have a legal leg to stand on. But unless we can afford to defend that right to our free speech in the courts, perhaps through the appellate level, it doesn't matter if we are right. We can be shut down.
All that being said, there is much that we as a community can achieve to express opposition to teaching TM's religiously based meditation without any threat of legal action.
While one or a few people working individually in direct confrontation with the TM Org may be in legal danger, many individuals taking small, concrete steps could expose the hidden, religious beliefs of the TM movement. As Mitch Kapor said in comments recently, stopping the TM Movement's march into public schools may need only a gentle nudge rather than a frontal assault.
I believe that the leaders of the TM Org have been drinking the Kool-Aid for so long, they have no idea of just how weird they look to unbiased, intelligent outsiders. I think that if we can turn the spotlight of the press on what we know as a community about the TM Movement's schemes, it is they -- not we critics -- that will shrivel in the harsh light of reality.
Here are some simple, practical things you can do to fight TM in the public schools:
- If you live in Hartford, CT,
Steamboat Springs, CO,or San Francisco, CA, DLF has already started a "TM/Quiet Time" program in your school district, according to a DLF email. The most powerful thing you can do is write your local school board & PTA and express your opposition. You may want to download Gina's fine letter that helped stop TM in San Rafael, CA public schools. If you do write to your school board or any others listed below, please be polite and consider limiting your points to one topic, TM's entry into public schools, rather than bringing up the very long list of criticisms that we as a community have expressed over the years. This way we remained focused on one issue, easily understandable by the public -- and will demonstrate our reasonableness, especially when contrasted with the wild, sometimes incoherent punches TM true believers are throwing all over the Internet.
- Write your congressperson. If you do not know who your local congressperson is, you can locate them and write an email here.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Whether you have TM in your schools currently or not, there is a good chance that your paper may be interested because of the global publicity push for the McCartney/Lynch benefit concert. Or you might consider writing a letter to Newsweek or other mainstream media that have written about the concert and teaching TM in the schools. Few letters are published, but it's my understanding that editors are influenced to post letters if they have received many contacts on the same subject. Let's flood 'em!
- Consider writing to your favorite blogs, if you believe they might have an interest, and ask if they intend to cover this controversy. Political and civil libertarian blogs are the most likely to be interested, such as Daily Kos or Talking Points Memo.
- Don't underestimate your power as a cyber citizen! You might consider creating a Google news alert account that sends you notices when a news article or blog post references this controversy. It's very simple, and full instructions are here. The search string I use is ("Transcendental Meditation" OR "David Lynch") AND School. When you find an article or post that you feel calls for an answer, leave a comment! Right now, the conversation in comments across the Internet is largely owned by TM true believers. The public at large simply doesn't know that there's a large and growing community of critics of the Transcendental Meditation program in all its various incarnations.
- If you have time and skills, consider volunteering to support anyone who is fighting TM in public school. To my knowledge, right now only I am actively leading a project to challenge the David Lynch Foundation's push, but Americans United for Separation of Church and State has published one blog post about DLF.
- Personally, I would like to talk with any volunteer with proven skills in public relations, legal experience with advocacy groups, financial experience with setting up a legal defense fund, writing, editing, graphic design on the web. I do not have budget at this time to compensate you, but this may be a possibility in the future.
I have received a number of emails offering to support a legal defense fund so that projects like the webinar could go forward. I do not have a nonprofit setup at this time, so any donation someone might consider would not be tax-deductible. At one time I was determined not to setup an organization or solicit funds. After all, we all poured millions of dollars into the Maharishi's schemes. The last thing most of us need is throw more money into another well-intentioned cause. But the real-world wake-up call the TM Org served me by referring to legal proceedings against the webinar and me personally certainly got my attention. I have very limited funds, personally. If you are in a comfortable position to make any size contribution to a legal fund, I would certainly be extremely grateful. The funds will be used to defend me, future participants in events such as the webinar, and contributors to TM-Free Blog. If you have the means to donate without affecting your family budget, please email me at email@example.com. I'll answer any questions or concerns you might have and explain how to contribute, if that is your wish. I discourage anyone from contributing unless you can do so without financial discomfort. (WE need a David Lynch!)#
I look forward to your input and suggestions in the comments below. I believe if we remain as individuals protesting the TM Movement alone, we can all be silenced. But if we act as a community, nothing can stop us.