Quick Notes: Death Threats, Custody Cases, and Polygamy’s Harm

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 18, 2010 — 51 Comments

A few quick notes for you on this Sunday.

Death Threats Against Sacred Source: Back on the 10th, I reported that Rajan Zed‘s Universal Society of Hinduism, and the Forum for Hindu Awakening were protesting several Hindu statues made by Sacred Source, claiming that they were “denigrating” to their gods and their faith. Since then it seems that Sacred Source has been receiving death threats via e-mail.

“Since then, the company has received about two dozen unhappy e-mails, said Liana Kowalzik, who owns the company, Sacred Source, with her husband. About half of those were threats, she said. “How hard you pray and how hard you try, you shall not escape, the days are coming, when each part of your body starts decomposing while you are alive,” one angry person wrote. Wrote another, “I want to kill you at least cut your tongue for doing this. Regards.” Kowalzik said she won’t be swayed by the violent messages. “Who are they going to threaten with death next if I cave?” she asked.”

There has been no response or statement from Zed or the Forum for Hindu Awakening condemning these death threats that their media exploits have seemingly spurred.  According to a post on Sacred Source’s Facebook page made by Liana Kowalzik, the threats are being forwarded from the Forum for Hindu Awakening site. The FBI and local authorities have been notified.

So far, there’s been no sign that this cause is being taken up by other national Hindu organizations. Neither the American Hindu Association, or the Hindu American Foundation, have mentioned the controversy or issues in an official statement. As for Rajan Zed, it should be noted that he doesn’t speak for all Hindus in America, and some Hindu groups have never heard of him outside his press clippings. In fact, some Hindus are alternately amused and annoyed by Zed’s ongoing media antics. Meanwhile, Zed’s getting the Global Civil Rights Hindu Jewel Award at the 1st annual California Hinduism Summit, organized by, you guessed it, the Forum for Hindu Awakening.

Religion and Custody Battles: An ongoing fear for all religious minorities is having their religion and beliefs used against them in divorce child custody hearings. There, misinformation and bias can become life-wrecking, forcing some Pagans deep into the closet, cut off from their religious community for fear of losing custody.

“Katie fought for her marriage with an attempt at joint counseling, then she fought for her faith in court, now she is reduced to just fighting daily to keep her child. Could she have taken a chance that the judge would be open-minded enough to view her religion as “real” and benign? Sure, but the risk was too great. She gave in.  Katie left the coven and she no no longer goes to festivals or meets with other Pagans. She prays alone, in secret. Her husband was, and continues to, pushing hard for full custody to save his little girl from the evil inside her mother.”

The only solution for people like Katie, forced into the closet because she doesn’t have the resources to fight,  is to build the resources within our communities for all the individuals who don’t win the ACLU intervention lottery so they can fight. For those working in the judicial system to come out and fight the prejudices that make judges think a Pagan religion is less moral and healthy than Christianity. To build on the precedents set in cases like Harrison v. Tauheed, where a Kansas appellate court ruled that a mother’s religious practices are inadmissible in a custody dispute. Until the day comes when vengeful ex-spouses stop using our faiths as a weapon in custody hearings.

Polygamy’s Social Evils: I’ve reported before on the upcoming Supreme Court case in B.C., Canada that is looking to decriminalize the practice of multiple marriage. The family behind the case is a polyamorous triad, and a local Wiccan (among others) has filed an affidavit in support of decriminalization. Now the defense is filing their own affidavits, with one scholarly paper essentially saying that legalized polygamy would cause far more social harm than the harms of limiting religious freedom and freedom of expression.

“Increased crime, prostitution and anti-social behaviour. Greater inequality between men and women. Less parental investment in children. And, a general driving down of the age of marriage for all women. These are some of the harms of polygamy (or more correctly, polygyny, since it is almost always men marrying more than once) that are outlined in a 45-page research paper by noted Canadian scholar Joseph Henrich, filed Friday in B.C. Supreme Court.”

The government plans to go the “Muslims and Mormons” route in order to show that a decriminalized, let alone legalized, multiple marriage would cause massive social ills. Consider this a preview of what will come should a similar movement try to challenge the laws of the United States. Can we have healthy, legal, multiple marriages without also empowering the abusive patriarchal excesses of fundamentalist Mormons and other polygamous-friendly sects? If this becomes a high-profile issue, how will various Pagan groups, many of whom have endorsed, or at least tolerate, poly marriages, react?

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • What is the ratio of genders in poly marriages? Has there been a study? While I would also assume that it would tend towards men having multiple wives, the poly relationships that I have had the most exposure to were women with multiple male partners.

  • I am simply horrified by this attack on Sacred Source; it is not in keeping with Hindu ideals at all. I have purchased as gifts multiple statues for personal friends who are active, traditional Indian Hindus. Each person was delighted with the unusual representations and felt it a good addition to their home shrines. From that reaction to this absurd, racist fundamentalism is just disgusting, and I hope that Sacred Source sticks to their guns. I'm definitely going to stash away a bit to purchase a Ganesha writer's status!

  • The arguments against polygamy remind me of the "people will want to marry their dogs" argument against same-sex marriage. Basically, people are unwilling or unable to conceive that any possible arrangement beyond the conventional one they are used to could possibly be tolerable, much less beneficial, to society.

  • Cathryn Bauer

    In Family Court, what generally happens is that parents and child are interviewed by a social worker who then makes recommendations to the judge about child custody. More often than not, the judge acts on these recommendations. A growing trend which I am very glad to see is for the court to appoint an attorney who represents the child or children in family dependency and custody actions. If there is educating to be done, it would be well-focused on social workers, and juvenile probation officers who in many cases are the real decision-makers in any case involving child custody. I have seen both child welfare workers and probation officers who are hair-curlingly fundie and seem to have no self-awareness whatsoever regarding their personal prejudices, be they religious or otherwise culturally biased. Attorneys and judges are aware of religious freedom laws. And honestly, I have not seen a problem with them. I reported a case in Family Court a couple of years ago where a father was seeking an injunction to prohibit his ex-wife from taking their son to any Scientology events during her allotted custody time with him. The judge slapped that one down in less than five minutes, citing the mother's constitutional right to raise her minor child in the religion she saw fit. I work with this judge a lot, and I'm pretty certain he doesn't have a high opinion of Scientology, nor do I. But it was hard for me not to jump up from behind my steno machine (I'm a court reporter) and clap.

    My heart goes out to the parents who must practice their faith in secret in order to keep their children. I would suggest that they aggressively search for every possible option for free or low-cost legal representation, starting with Legal Aid in their county. If they can't help, possibly they will refer to a lawyer or organization who can. I also suggest calling the state bar association whose office will usually be located in the state capital city. If not, it is easily located by a Google search. A third option is that many county courthouses have a legal self-help center, some of which are staffed by paralegals. They may be able to assist in finding low-cost or pro bono (donated) legal services. It's my personal opinion, though, that a parent would definitely want to be represented by an attorney in such a critical matter rather than going the in pro pria persona (acting as your own attorney).

  • Baurch Dreamstalker

    Religious custody law is a wonderful opportunity for some established Pagan institution to start an intervention project along the lines of Lady Liberty League.

  • Harrison fnord

    Okay, to their going to go the “evil man” route. Assume that polyfolk are guys who just want to have threesomes, and women who have so little self esteem that that they play along.

    Here we go… sigh.

    • Fireowner

      I don't think it's that simple. If you're raised from birth being indoctrinated with this culture, it's going to be really hard to break away.This is simply how things are in your reality.

      I'm sure there are female Muslims who like being swathed head to toe in a burqa and not being leered at by throngs of men.

  • Rose

    I live close enough to Colorado City to see polygamists whenever I go out. I believe that the people trying to decriminalize multiple marriage should look into how it would change these secretive cults it they were suddenly mainstreamed though decriminalization of the one thing that keeps them on the fringes of society. I think the most dangerous part of these cults is that in order to practice what they preach they must live outside of society. Once they were allowed back in, I think, and I hope someone close to the case provides a study on this, that it would stop a lot of the anti-social behavior of these groups.

  • Thriceraven

    My poly family has 3 women and 2 men. Another I knew had 1 woman with 2 men. Many poly groups I know of are formed around bisexual women, and there are a lot more women who define as bisexual than there are men. Not a statistical sample, but definitely interesting.

  • caraschulz

    I don't believe that people were insisting that "all Pagans must come out of the closet." At least not on here.

    What was being stated was – more of us need to stop actively hiding our faith if we can. If we don't – the cost (in the form of lost jobs, physical attacks, and fear of losing custody of children) will continue to be high and nothing will change. Pagans will continue to live in fear – the fear you described and the fear that my friend Katie has been living under for the past few years.

    The decision of if you actively hide your religion or not is one that only you can make – and it is because I respect your decision and the real concerns behind it that I support the call for more of us to be "out" so we can work to end the discrimination we face.

  • Johnny Dee

    many of the abuses of polygamous relationships come from fundamentalist men marrying young girls. Simply making the age of marriage 18 would preclude this while still allowing other arrangements for those so inclined.The age of consent should be tied to the age of legal adulthood in any case.

  • Lori F – MN

    I think the problem could really be the lawyers, when it comes to poly marriages. What if there's a divorce? What about the children? Property division? Their (lawyers) rigid legal minds couldn't handle that. But think about the pre-nupts!
    I'm only half kidding on this.
    Poly marriages have gotten a bad rap from some of the more publicly known mormon cases which involved marriages to female minors and marriages arranged by a spiritual leader. These are not the same as a poligimast marriage between legal adults.

  • Fireowner

    You mean it's not legal to be married to a bitch? Free! Free! I'm free at last! Free at last! Thank the gods! 😉

  • Thriceraven

    I totally agree. The heinous things that go on in some of these communities has nothing to do with polygamy per se, but with issues surrounding child abuse, spousal abuse and age-of-consent. There's no reason to criminalize group marriage — and victimize those of us consenting and liberated adults who chose a poly lifestyle in the process — as long as adequate child and spousal abuse laws are present.

  • Alex Pendragon

    Who in the hell needs marraige anyway? As far as I know, there is no law against 5 females living with 3 or 7 males, period. It's only when you enter this strange territory claimed by the religious right as an "institution" with all of it's legal complications and nasty partings do you really find trouble. Just move in and enjoy, and forget all about them and their precious "meant to be only between one man and one women" bullcrap.

  • Let us hope that this incident will prove educational to anyone who has in the past made the mistake of taking professional bloviator Rajan Zed seriously.

    I am very glad that law enforcement is involved. I hope and pray that Justice deals swiftly with these criminals, and that no harm comes to the wonderful folks as Sacred Source.

    • There are a billion Hindus, so there is plenty of room for unhinged individuals.

      And yes, legitimate Hindu groups need to put as much space as quickly as possible between themselves and Rajan Zed. This is a bit tricky because he has been such a successful con artist up to this point. Someone really needs to dig into exactly how he managed to arrange to get himself invited to be the first Hindu to deliver the opening prayer for a Senate session. The man has no formal training or other qualifications as a Hindu religious leader. Hinduism is completely decentralized and there is no central authority, thank the Gods, for deciding who is legit and who is not. But random people cannot just proclaim themselves to be great Hindu leaders — or at least they shouldn't (and if they do they should never get as far as Zed has!). There are many ways for someone to become educated and trained as a priest or as a teacher of some sort in the Hindu tradition — but even in his most grandiose moments, Zed never claims to have undergone any such training.

  • Also, marriage provides some legal benefits to the partners engaged therein, e.g., the ability to make medical decisions for their partner when one is incapacitated. Without the marriage, those rights might be unavailable or ignored.

  • Pitch313

    Death threats somehow make Hinduism more pure than Shiva-Shakti statures??? I don't see it!!!

    Polygamy. Is BC really ready for non-criminalized marriage of more than two mates? And are polys ready for all this now maybe law-abiding many partner marriage?

    Not to wax overly nostalgic, but there can be a vital and useful charge in doing "outlaw" deeds. Plenty of folks have a real need for having something in their lives that is on the far side of the law or custom. Like back in the day Neo-Paganism…

    De-criminalizing polygamy is OK by me. But it would be a big change!

    • I Hope that Rajan Zed now learned the lesson about the risks of the "they are offending our faith" speech.
      People take religion seriously, and in the case of organized and established religions such as Hinduism they take the statements of religious leaders even more seriously. When a religious leader says a phrase like "that should be banned", it will be translated in the ranks of fanatics that "we should ban it by force" and then before we know we will have a lot of "Salman Rushdies" living their lives hiding from threats because one dude decided that a statue is denigrating to his faith.
      I hope that sacred source stick to their guns and won't be intimidated.

    • Bookhousegal

      'Unhinged individuals' or not, some of the quoted threats just don't parse right: just like where you might have an 'unhinged Pagan' the results would be different than you get from an 'unhinged dabbler' or 'Someone trying to defame.'

      One of the threats in particular sounds like some secondhand crap from what a death-metal wanna-be OTO kid would intone about the 'Kali Yuga.'

      Appropriated words, wrong paradigm. I've got kind of an ear for it: I used to hear a lot of such stuff in places where I've been. A certain amount of it really does mirror the Jack Chick portrayals.

  • Re; "Polygamy's Harm". This case is interesting. Having been involved in a poly relationship, I was curious as to the family's motivation for seeking legal status. Why not just stay below the radar, as Alex Pendragon suggests, and live happily ever after? The Vancouver Sun article suggests that a member of the family is not Canadian and may be seeking citizenship through marriage, however, this just may be the paper's slant. It's interesting that " Maridas and Osborne and their two young children live in a home in Edmonton with Drew Thompson and Katy Furness." Yet they have filed in Vancouver, over 12 hours away. I live in Edmonton, and if I can find these people, and if they are willing, I would love to talk to them about their motivation for this action. No promises, but does anyone have any great question suggestions? Should I even bother them?

  • Bookhousegal

    I think they filed in Vancouver because Alberta is much more conservative, politically.

  • Good point. Might increase the chance of a positive outcome.

  • Bookhousegal

    Yeah. One reason poly marriage needs its own structures is because 'divorce' doesn't necessarily dissolve the whole marriage: one way of going about it that I've heard of is basically making the marriage like a small corporation, with its bylaws and strictures and shares. The problem is that if it's *criminalized* for whatever reason, you can't do that: one of the things about. a lot of anti-equality laws in some U.S. states is that it actually prohibits private contracts that give benefits 'substantially-similar to marriage' between people who are not straight couples.

    One injustice there is that same-sex couples shouldn't have to hire all those lawyers to draw up incomplete protections when straight couples can go to any wedding chapel or JP in the country and have it all for the asking.

    Another is that even if you do have a complex situation, you *can't* hire the lawyers.

    Patriarchal polygamy a la the Mormon and Muslim traditions has a legal problem in free countries: it's still based on women-(and children) as-basically-property: the man has rights over several women, who have no standing regarding each other and very little regarding him and joint property. The law can't sanction that, because it's inherently unequal: but where it's practiced without any legal recognition, it's even worse: the women have no standing or access to services in the law at all. The fact that it's illegal is kind of a trap of its own. I think the law should establish legal frameworks that treat everyone as free to enter and leave as (and only as) consenting adults with an equal share in the marriage. No one says everyone in a group marriage *must* have sex or anything like that.

  • caraschulz

    About Poly marriages.

    I realize the case is in Canada, but this all would be easier (in the USA) if the government stopped its regulation of marriage (a religious ceremony) and simply went to domestic partnerships for everyone under existing contractual law to be signed off on by a judge or other court official (not clergy). You could then have legal unions for gay, straight, and poly – same as you can have business partnerships for gay, straight, and multiple adults. Yes, children do complicate the matter and so it isn't exactly like a business partnership, but custody is already complex and looked at on a case by case basis so this wouldn't change it very much.

    • Matt Gerlach

      One annoying thing that anti-poly people do is that they take studies which look at one specific cultural group (Mormons) that allows (very badly arranged, unhealthy) poly-marriages and then use that to predict that ALL poly-marriages will be plagued by the same problems. The vast majority of poly relationships I have seen are gay men for whom none of the above-mentioned "social ills" would apply. (Although, some people are so freaked out by the idea of even monogamous gay marriage that poly gay marriage would probably give them an apoplexy, and massive numbers of people being rushed to the hospital could be considered a "social ill.")

      • I'll simply point to Jason's post for those who recently insisted that all Pagans must come out of the closet. There are still real and present dangers for those who do so. My closed group of women, many of whom would suffer at work, in custody battles, etc. if their religion became known, is constantly considering: what happens if this new woman who wants to join us divorces her husband? Do we all get dragged into the custody battles? What happens if her boss finds out that she asked for that day off to celebrate a Wiccan holiday?

        Yes, the more Pagans who come out, the easier it is for all of us. But the "cost" for parents, those of us in "public" jobs, etc. is often quite high.

        We need to respect each others' decisions.

        • Matt Gerlach

          Perhaps instead of encouraging "everyone" to come out we should be encouraging people who do not plan to raise children and/or people who work in "Pagan friendly" careers to come out? As a gay man who works in retail and hopes to eventually work at a university, there are significantly less dangers for me than for many other Pagans I know. On the other hand however, I don't really come into contact with the people who most need educated about Paganism as much as people in other careers (i.e. military/government jobs, etc.)

          • There are some laws in some states that limit the number of unmarried women living in the same household. They're old laws on the books to try and prevent the running of brothels. Granted, those laws are so old I'm not sure they're enforced anymore, but they do remain on the books. PA, I think, used to or still does have one, and I had a friend arrested in MA and incarcerated for 24 hours over such a law, so it might not be as simple as you think.

    • Bookhousegal

      Yeah, the wry pronouncements that people are better off without marriage ignore that it comes with some 2400 legal rights and protections, the *real* money that it costs when you can't be legally-married, and the very real discrimination that marriage can protect one from.

      It's not merely about some religions' constantly-ignored 'Permission to have sex' factor: it's about not being treated as legal strangers by the law, business, and society.

      Poly relationships are so varied in form that they need new structures, tailored to the situations, but that much is still the same.

  • margaret

    I cant dismiss the evidence from history etc., but it is hard for me to see why polygyny leads to "greater inequality between men and women" since the women outnumber the man in the family and should be able to hold out for their rights. Or does he mean that we women would gang up on the men and the man would become the "unequal " partner?

  • Bookhousegal

    (Are the comments on this thread malfunctioning for anyone else?)

    The reason for the 'greater inequality' is entirely because in patriarchal versions, the women are all in a lower status innately, however many there are: basically the man gets to 'own' several women and their 'value' would tend to go down. (From what I've heard, where there's a Muslim version, it's actually in principle and by convention fairly reasonable: men can't have multiple wives unless they meet some relatively-pretty lavish requirements of upkeep for each: I doubt it'd fly in the American middle class, but as 'Doings of those rich people' it doesn't really raise particular indignance compared to some of how marriage is in general. Then again, I'm not a jealous type. 🙂 )

    In an egalitarian society, though, it really shouldn't matter. A legal family can certainly be any size between consenting adults without additional problems: in fact, group marriages could solve a lot of them.

  • (Yes, all gone but two!)-Damned "Intense Debate"!

  • Bookhousegal

    Well, at least it's not just me.

    I paused to reflect on those death threats, and this morning I woke up with one thought about them: That sounds like the kind of 'Temple of Doom' crap Jack Chick comics and witch-hunt 'seminars' always claimed was the real 'Horrors of Hinduism'… Are they even *real?* Sounds more like someone deciding to take the opportunity to paint Hindu people up to be like Muslim terrorists and scary and all.

    I think American Hindu organizations need to get on the issue, really.

  • Definite malfunction. I got two replies yesterday and yet my comment has disappeared altogether.

  • For what it's worth, the comments still exist on your IntenseDebate profile page (for those who have an ID account).

  • Bookhousegal

    Who owns 'IntenseDebate' anyway?

    I'd *have* a profile if the logins weren't creating problems of their own.

  • mary

    Hindu and Buddhist artists have long portrayed "ananda" – divine bliss – through the mirror of human sexuality with the ecstasy that accompanies a dissolution of self and separateness. This also speaks to the transcendent embedded within the immanent.

    Check out the Chicago Art Institute, Los Angeles Museum of Art, and the Avery Brundage Collection at the Asian Art Museum in SF.

  • That's also true. But neither he nor the folks at the Foundation for Hindu Awakening act like they are outraged or surprised by these death threats. They don't even act embarrassed.

    In many ways Rajan Zed is just a textbook "crank". But the fact is that he is an extraordinarily successful crank. His success is very suspicious, in my opinion.

    • Lori F – MN

      Honestly, the statue that seems to have brought this about is on several other sites which sell Hindu sacred icons. The only difference is that the one on Sacred Source is in C-O-L-O-R. Vivid color which is in their spiritual texts and on the walls of their temples. So, does that original guy have something against sacred icons being in color? and just because he doesn't like his icons in color, doesn't mean others don't.
      I'm glad Sacred Source isn't backing down on selling this.

  • Arie

    Also look at the evidence from biology and our closest primate relatives. Where each group contains many females and a dominant male. And how does a male get to be dominant? Simple, by beating up on the previous dominant male.

    One male to many females does seem to imply that the male is more valuable. I have to say that I find the arguments against recognizing polygamy to be convincing. It really does seem to be incompatible with ideals of gender equality. Then again in a society that has decriminalized adultery, and no longer places children into the legitimate and illegitimate category based on marital status, what does marriage really signify anyway?

    On a Personal note I have two children, and in the Christian sense am living in sin : )

    • Fireowner

      Maybe I should issue a condemnation of them for daring to make statues of Norse gods, thus profaning them. Of course we can come to an amicable resolution if they give me free stuff. 😉

    • Bookhousegal

      Nothing says he actually has to be involved.

  • Finnchuill

    Zed and his ilk would do well to turn their attention to the pollution and drying up of the sacred Ganges River (the Goddess Ganga) if they are truly concerned about desecration. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,…

  • The L

    As an ex-Catholic who plans to get married in the courthouse, I'll be "living in sin" according to my family's standards–if a Catholic gets married outside of a church, or to a non-Catholic, it somehow "doesn't count." 🙂 As an added bonus, my nominally-Christian fiance will also be "unequally yoked."

  • Bookhousegal

    Dominance is actually something of a different matter, really: that depends very much on the personalities of the people involved, in humans: we share ancestry with both chimps and bonoboes, and among different primates there are different sorts of group 'arrangements' that have a lot to do with their habitats. A lot of traditions of polygamy withthe male in power are designed that way: from societies where males inherently have more power, that's almost inevitable.

    There's some precedent for polyandry, though, and as was discussed in some of the lost threads, a lot of modern poly families may grow from pairs of bi women: it seems pretty natural to us, anyway, and maybe that's why it's a kind of popular fantasy, even in a homophobic culture.

    I've known poly families based around one strongly=dominant straight woman, some where everyone's the same sex, and some that are more like a straight couple that takes on a third or more.

    If the society has gender equality, or more or less so, then so will be the poly relationships: you'd certainly see some of them where the dominance structure works out with a male in charge of women, but the same is true of monogamy. Every relationship finds its own balance (Or imbalance,) but if you have a couple of less-dominant women there's also the likelihood of there being some collective clout, if things don't turn out badly-abusive, which is a risk anywhere. If there's gender equality in the society, that's how to make marriages of any kind better, rather than trying to force gender equality into society by restricting the form of marriage: as long as everyone's equal in the eyes of the law, it's doable.

    I mean, you know, I personally am happy in a supportive role, as long as the one/s in charge are behaving in a competent way: this doesn't mean I'm a doormat. I can do well in leadership roles: I'm just *better* at seeing and laying out possibilities than choosing between them, sometimes. 🙂 I've got a real way of getting bound up in indecision precisely because I think so much, so sometimes it's just a lot less *stressful* to have someone take the executive role. Equality in society doesn't mean everyone has to *want* the same things, or that people with certain personality traits are the only way to be that everyone else should emulate, whether they want to or not.

  • Windi Larson

    Custody battles like that make me very happy that my husband is also pagan.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Intense Debate must be having a “day”. It should correct itself. I'llsee what I can do on my end.

  • Yet another +1 for removing Intense Debate.

  • Baurch Dreamstalker

    Perhaps we're so prolix we broke it.