San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 24th, 2009
Hindu leader awaiting trial still barred from Driftwood headquarters, court rules

by BRAD ROLLINS
Managing Editor

A state appeals court today rejected Hindu leader Prakashanand Saraswati’s request to return to the Hays County headquarters of his spiritual movement while awaiting trial on indecency with a child charges.

The international leader of the JKP-Barsana Dham sect of Hinduism, the 80-year-old Saraswati was arrested in April 2008 for allegedly touching the breasts of then-minors between 1993 and 1996. He was released on $500,000 bonds on the condition that he not leave the country and not come within 200 yards of the Barsana Dham Center on Farm-to-Market Road 1826 near Driftwood, a 200-acre replica of an Indian holy district and the movement’s North American seat. He has been living in a house nearby, court records show.

In May last year, 22nd State District Judge Charles Ramsay relaxed the bond conditions to allow Saraswati to visit India for religious duties backed by $10 million bond posted by infomercial magnate Peter Spiegal, a Saraswati adherent who amassed a fortune in part by selling ionic air purifiers, health supplements and other products via television and telemarketing. In August, Ramsay rejected Saraswati’s request to return to the Barsana Dham Centerb and Saraswati applied for a writ of habeas corpus to the Third Court of Criminal Appeals.

Represented by attorneys that include Tom Garner of San Marcos, Swaraswati argued that the bond conditions violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and, under the Eighth Amendment, did not serve to ensure he’ll appear for trial or to protect the alleged victims or community. Minors do not currently live at Barsana Dham Center.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice J. Woodfin “Woody” Jones and released today, the court rejected the state’s argument that the appeals court did not have jurisdiction to hear what was essentially an appeal of Ramsay’s August ruling denying Swaraswati’s motion to amend the bond conditions. The habeas writ is appropriate, Jones wrote, but said Saraswati waived his right to challenge the bond conditions when he agreed to them following the return of his passport in May 2008.

“In his brief, appellant argues that a habeas corpus petition challenging the legality of one’s restraint or confinement can be filed at any time. This may be true, but it does not answer the states’ argument that appellant, by agreeing to the condition that he not return to Barsana Dham, waived or is estopped from asserting his contention that the condition is unlawful,” Jones wrote.

CORRECTION: The article originally said he is 90. He is 80.

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Appeals court opinion denying Swaraswati’s motion [pdf]

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4 thoughts on “Hindu leader awaiting trial still barred from Driftwood headquarters, court rules

  1. The judge got it right. An adult’s “right” to practice religion at a specific location is trumped by children’s right to be safe from suspected predators.

    David Clohessy
    National Director, SNAP
    Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
    7234 Arsenal Street
    St. Louis MO 63143
    314 566 9790 cell
    SNAPclohessy@aol.com
    SNAPnetwork.org

  2. I do believe that Prakash’s age is about 80 not 90 as stated in the article. His “guru” Kripalu Maharaj, {who has been arrested for similar conduct in Trinidad and in India} is around 90 years old.

  3. While I am not a direct devotee of Barsana Dham or Prakashanand Saraswati, there are many aspects of the way this case is being handled in the courts that are bothersome to me.

    First and foremost, Due to the type of accusation levelled, there is no DNA or other means of verifying the alleged victim’s claims. I am all for protecting minors, and have been a victim of someone who tried to force himself on to me. Thankfully, I was big enough (I was fifteen then)to get myself off the situation. While I was bitter, confused, etc and did not share the info with my parents for the next 10 years and moved out of that state, I think it would be unfair for me to accuse this individual all of a sudden. even while legitimate 10 years later (While I harbour no bitterness – The person in question died of natural causes a few years back I heard)

    Secondly, whatever happned to innocent until proved guilty? Till date no concrete proof seems to have been furnished. Why not allow him to get back until there is evidence to the contrary. I am not a lawyer, but this should be simple. The victims are no longer there, so why not bring a semblance of normalcy to his life, just in the case that he happens to be innocent which is very likely.

    Thirdly, I am very offended as a Hindu living in the US, that the Bail amount for him leaving the country was set so high ($10 MM). This may be totally misplaced, but has any journalist reviewed similar cases and seen if the bail amounts set, etc were comparable, or is there some level of discrimination here? Tremendous damage has already been caused to his name – Why add to it, especially considering he may be innocent?

    If he is guilty, may god and/or our courts punish him – there is no question of me defending him in this case. But my only question is, is justice being doled out correclty, or do most journalists believe that he is guily before being proven innocent already and report accordingly?

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