Funny, I've got a song stuck in my head this morning. It's Lou Reed's "I'm So Free":
Oh, please, Saint GermainI get this song in my head every time I read United States v. Ballard:
I have come this way
Do you remember the shape I was in
I had horns and fins
I'm so free
I'm so free
Do you remember the silver walks
you used to shiver and I used to talk
Then we went down to Times Square
and ever since I've been hangin' round there
Respondents were indicted and convicted for using, and conspiring to use, the mails to defraud. 215 Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. 338, 18 U.S.C. A. 338; 37 Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. 88, 18 U.S.C.A. 88. The indictment was in twelve counts. It charged a scheme to defraud by organizing and promoting the I Am movement through the use of the mails. The charge was that certain designated corporations were formed, literature distributed and sold, funds solicited, and memberships in the I Am movement sought 'by means of false and fraudulent representations, pretenses and promises'. The false representations charged were eighteen in number. It is sufficient at this point to say that they covered respondents' alleged religious doctrines or beliefs. They were all set forth in the first count. The following are representative:It's a case about how you really don't want the government delving into the question of whether religious beliefs are false.
'that Guy W. Ballard, now deceased, alias Saint Germain, Jesus, George Washington, and Godfre Ray King, had been selected and thereby designated by the alleged 'ascertained masters,' Saint Germain, as a divine messenger; and that the words of 'ascended masters' and the words of the alleged divine entity, Saint Germain, would be transmitted to mankind through the medium of the said Guy W. Ballard;Each of the representations enumerated in the indictment was followed by the charge that respondents 'well knew' it was false.
'that Guy W. Ballard, during his lifetime, and Edna W. Ballard, and Donald Ballard, by reason of their alleged high spiritual attainments and righteous conduct, had been selected as divine messengers through which the words of the alleged 'ascended masters,' including the alleged Saint Germain, would be communicated to mankind under the teachings commonly known as the 'I Am' movement;
'that Guy W. Ballard, during his lifetime, and Edna W. Ballard and Donald Ballard had, by reason of supernatural attainments, the power to heal persons of ailments and diseases and to make well persons afflicted with any diseases, injuries, or ailments, and did falsely represent to persons intended to be defrauded that the three designated persons had the ability and power to cure persons of those diseases normally classified as curable and also of diseases which are ordinarily classified by the medical profession as being incurable diseases; and did further represent that the three designated persons had in fact cured either by the activity of one, either, or all of said persons, hundreds of persons afflicted with diseases and ailments;'
The miracles of the New Testament, the Divinity of Christ, life after death, the power of prayer are deep in the religious convictions of many. If one could be sent to jail because a jury in a hostile environment found those teachings false, little indeed would be left of religious freedom.The conviction is upheld, however, because the trial judge excluded this evidence and asked the jury to decide only whether the defendants believed these things. But how do you think about whether they believe something without thinking about whether it's believable? Justice Jackson dissented, in an opinion that's one of my favorites, containing a delightful snark about judges:
I do not know what degree of skepticism or disbelief in a religious representation amounts to actionable fraud. [William] James points out that 'Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.' Belief in what one may demonstrate to the senses is not faith. All schools of religious thought make enormous assumptions, generally on the basis of revelations authenticated by some sign or miracle. The appeal in such matters is to a very different plane of credility than is invoked by representations of secular fact in commerce. Some who profess belief in the Bible read literally what others read as allegory or metaphor, as they read Aesop's fables. Religious symbolism is even used by some with the same mental reservations one has in teaching of Santa Claus or Uncle Sam or Easter bunnies or dispassionate judges. It is hard in matters so mystical to say how literally one is bound to believe the doctrine he teaches and even more difficult to say how far it is reliance upon a teacher's literal belief which induces followers to give him money.UPDATE: I've changed the link for the "I'm So Free" lyrics and changed "horns that bent" to "horns and fins." One of the commenters said he thought it was "horns and fins," and that was what I'd always heard too. There are lots of lyrics sites, but how do they know the lyrics? They aren't really authoritative. I'm changing the spelling of "Germaine" to "Germain" too, even though both lyrics sites have the "e." A Google search convinces me that "Germain" is correct. But who is Saint Germain? I assume the references are to the Count of St. Germain: "a courtier, adventurer, inventor, amateur scientist, violinist, amateur composer, and generally mysterious gentleman."