Christmas drawings censored
“Christmas at the Zehrs Eramosa grocery store in Guelph is a time to celebrate community. Store-greeter and artist Dorothy Amey helps to put out the decorations in a unique fashion: she draws pictures of prominent community members on the store’s windows.
This year her subjects included Church of the Universe Reverends Walter Tucker and Michael Baldasaro.
“They were customers,” said Amey, “That’s why I did it. It was nothing political. They’ve never caused anybody harm ? but I don’t want to offend anybody.”
But someone was offended. An unidentified customer of the store complained that the image “promoted drugs and nudity” because church members are part-time nudists who believe marijuana is a sacrament.
Despite his reluctance to remove the image, store manager Albert Townsend was under orders from his regional manager to do so.
“It is a shame that the illustration had to come down.” said Townsend. “I didn’t agree with it either. Dorothy is fantastic.”
Since the image has been removed, it has appeared in southern Ontario newspapers and has been circulated widely on the internet. Once again censorship has resulted in more people seeing the banned image than ever would have otherwise.
Religion called child abuse
Reverend Sister Terri Cook of the Church of the Universe’s “Mission of Compassion” hasn’t found anything free about religion in West Central Illinois, USA. The courts have ruled that her religion makes her an unfit mother.
The police and courts were also upset that she had distributed church pamphlets about American constitutional rights.
“I learned what a joke the legal system and the constitution and the amendments were in court? There’s not any truth to their words,” she said.
The trouble began when Reverend Cook separated from her husband. He immediately went to the police and accused her of dealing drugs.
Early in May of ’97, the Chief of Police himself arrived on her door. According to Reverend Cook the Chief shouted, “Fuck you, fuck the freedom of religion, fuck the constitution and the first amendment, fuck the church. You’re going down!” The police found minimal amounts of illegal substances in her home; not enough to charge her with trafficking.
The Department of Child and Family Services also stopped by for a visit. They found Reverend Cook guilty of “potential child abuse” because she believes marijuana is sacred. She was told to stop practicing her religion or she would lose her children? immediately.
Her lawyer (who later revealed that he was taking an Assistant District Attorney position with the state) convinced her to plead guilty to the drug charges. In later divorce proceedings, the conviction and the pamphlets she had distributed became instrumental in convincing the court that she was an unfit mother.
The court has advised Reverend Cook that if she holds any more church meetings or partakes of church sacrament (marijuana), she will lose remaining visiting privileges with her daughters and be sent to jail.
City Seizes Marijuana Mission
The Church of the Universe’s battle with the city of Guelph to keep their holy land, aptly named “Hempire Village”, rages on. Church ministers want to turn the land into a hemp-mecca, a safe place for the sacramental use of marijuana. The city of Guelph wants to tear the place apart and sell off the scrap metal.
Originally, the property belonged to a wealthy american industrialist named John Cooke, who operated a foundry know as “IMICO” on the site. Cooke owed over $400,000 in back taxes and over a million dollars in utility bills, and needed a way to relieve himself of the burden.
Cooke managed to convince the mayor of Guelph that the property was polluted, by taking a soil sample from the bottom of a contaminated dry-well – the only polluted spot on the property.
All that was left was to convince the federal government’s environmental experts. The project would attract millions in federal clean-up money and create jobs in the area. But when the feds didn’t bite on Cooke’s fake bait, the city of Guelph was left with nothing. Cooke skipped the country.
A provincial politician named John Long had possession of the property next, and donated it to the Church of the Universe, who began to clean and rebuild on the property. The city of Guelph, however, was still looking to collect on the property, and the church was a perfect fall-guy. Back taxes of $400,000 were still attached to the property, and the courts refused to recognize the church’s tax exemption, although the church has appealed. The courts have continually denied official recognition to the church because of church leaders’ insistence that marijuana is a sacrament. Every other church in Canada is exempt from such taxes.
The city first tried to sell the land out from under the church in a “tax” sale. But when there were no buyers, they attempted to evict the church’s leaders, and the matter proceeded to the courts. In December 1997, Justice James Clarke upheld the city’s decision to remove the church’s three highest leaders from Hempire Village. The Justice’s decision was based largely on a technicality having to do with the wording of an affidavit which the church had filed, in which church leaders again asserted their right to tax exemption.
“If the law is the law and we have equality before the law, the city’s case will be thrown out,” said church founder, Reverend Walter Tucker, after filing an appeal to Justice Clarke’s decision.
The church will argue in appeal that the courts cannot issue a “Writ of Possession” as the Church of the Universe is “neither a person nor corporate legal entity and as such does not have the legal capacity to be sued.” The Writ of Possession was the legal document issued by Justice Clarke asserting the City’s legal ownership of Church holy land.
Other arguments put forward by church elders include the church’s right to fundamental justice as described by the Magna Carta, common law, and the Canadian constitution. The appeal will be heard early in ’98.