Judge's Transcendental Meditation Sentence Crossed the Line, Attorney Says
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, April 11, 2006: 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." 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. 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.