Cover Story

Sect apart

"Sect apart" Continued...

Issue: "A mighty fortress is our sect," Oct. 20, 2007

Scientology officials at the Flag Service Organization did not return WORLD's request for comment, but spokesperson Pat Harney recently told the Associated Press that the church has "done some growing up; we've gotten to know people; we're better understood." Retired Clearwater police detective Ray Emmons, the chief investigator of local Scientologists in the 1980s and a longtime outspoken critic, is now resigned to let sleeping dogs lie, telling WORLD that Scientology is in his past.

Many local politicians and civic leaders have likewise ceased to criticize the church's presence. "They've become part of the community because they reached out and made an effort," county commissioner Susan Latvala told AP. "It's really changed in the last 10 or 12 years."

Maharishi Vedic City

In 1993, Rogers Badgett and his wife Candace opened the Raj Resort, a health spa and restaurant outside Fairfield, Iowa. Less than a decade later, they helped build a city around that business.

Maharishi Vedic City is an incorporated social experiment into the civic value of Transcendental Meditation, which purports to raise levels of consciousness through silent internal focus. Badgett has practiced TM for 30 years and swears by its effectiveness. He now sits on the town's city council, alongside four other TM practitioners.

The roughly 500 residents of Vedic City are encouraged to meditate for 20 minutes twice daily in citywide group sessions before and after each work day. The town's youth practice meditation in the local private school.

But unlike homogenized religious communities, Vedic City boasts residents from wide-ranging faith backgrounds. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus are among the TM devotees.

The town's communications officer Steven Yellin told WORLD that TM is often mistaken for a religion but can, he claims, function alongside any particular faith or no faith at all: "If you're Jewish and you meditate, you become a better Jew. If you're Catholic and you meditate, you become a better Christian. If you have stress, if you have a weak mind, if you're overshadowed by things in life, how can you really be a good Christian? You have to be a good person first."

Yellin, himself Jewish, attends a local synagogue in Fairfield. No religious buildings have yet opened in Vedic City, where all structures face east, adhere to Sthapatya Vedic architectural principles, and are aligned along 10 concentric circles. The town's initial plans include two large golden domes at its center for the separate meditation of men and women.

TM Practitioners believe that if 10,000 people participate in the advanced meditative form of yogic flying, it will create peace and harmony throughout the world. Yogic flying amounts to cross-legged hopping, a practice Badgett says is scientifically proven to generate coherence of the mind and possibly even improve IQ.

"By taking your attention inward on a regular basis, you start to use more of your mental potential," Badgett explained. "The ultimate goal is to have everyone use as much of their own innate intelligence as possible and get over some of this war and hate. If people are more creative, then they're able to fulfill their own desires and don't have to go take somebody else's country or property."

Hildale/Colorado City

When Elaine Tyler moved from Denver to St. George, Utah, five years ago and began a remodeling project on her new home, something about the building crew her contractor hired struck her as odd. For one, they dressed in terribly outdated clothing that reminded her of Amish culture. And the crew included a 10-year-old boy.

"I'm thinking, 'Why is this child running one of these power nail tools? Why isn't this kid in school?'" Tyler recalled.

Her contractor explained that the crew hailed from Hildale, which meant nothing to Tyler at the time. A year later, it came to mean her life's work as she founded the Hope Organization to help women and children transition out of Hildale's polygamous culture. Her program currently works with 75 former residents of Hildale and Colorado City, many of them young teenage boys expelled from the towns to preserve a higher ratio of women to men.

For almost a century, FLDS members have practiced plural marriage in these remote twin cities of several thousand residents-with only occasional intervention from outside law enforcement. In 1953, Arizona governor John Howard Pyle sent troops to raid the area, setting off a drawn-out legal battle that effected little to no change.

Last month, a Utah court convicted the sect's religious leader Warren Jeffs of two counts of conspiracy to commit rape for his role in the forced marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs also will stand trial in Arizona for alleged sexual conduct with a minor.

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