Re: Freedom of Thought
Aug 04, 1996 05:14 AM
by Sy Ginsburg
On Aug 3, Maxim Osinovsky wrote: "Hello Sy, What you wrote about--I mean those
expulsions--disturbs me very much, partly because I am an Alice Bailey student,
but mostly because I hate restrictions of freedom." He then went on to cite
sections of the national bylaws demonstrating the power and control of the
national section over TSA lodges.
The situation is worse than Max surmises. The purported bylaws as revised in
January give Wheaton even more draconian power over members and lodges than
heretofore. Purported bylaw 4, section 9 from which Max quotes is one of the
revisions. Purported bylaw 9 concerning Lodges, Study Centers and Federations
was changed even more drastically.
However, these changes and the entire bylaw referendum was challenged by myself
and 6 other Lodge Presidents (3 of whom are lawyers), with official notification
to TSA officers and directors in December, 1995, because of numerous
irregularities in the procedure for passage of these changes. In our view the
changes could not be adopted validly by the membership of TSA for want of a
proper submission. The TSA officers and directors have disagreed with our
objections and assume the purported bylaws as revised are valid. We contend
they are not.
I first began to look into the reason for these purported bylaw revisions when
they were announced to the delegates to the TSA national convention in July
1995, which I attended. The primary reason given me then was because of what
happened at the Boston lodge, and the perceived need to tighten TSA national
control over local lodges. Max, you should know that although the Boston lodge
was expalled by Wheaton, it continues on now indepedently, with a large and
active membership (about 65 members).
What is behind all this is, in my view, the attempt to change the Theosophical
Society internationally and nationally from the top down into what is legally
known as an episcopal organization, instead of a congregational one. In
October, 1995, I wrote a letter to various members of our Society and I also
attempted to have it published in the American Theosophist. To explain the
problem that we face, I will quote from it in part:
Proposed Bylaw Changes #15, #16, #17 and #9 Pose a Real Threat to the T.S.A.
by Sy Ginsburg, J.D., President, Miami Branch
When disputes arise in a spiritual organization between a governing body and its
constituent branches, the courts have traditionally looked to see if the
organization is episcopal or congregational in determining who controls. From a
legal perspective, an episcopal organization is seen as one in which control of
both assets and teaching emanates from the highest level and is, in turn,
disseminated through a hierarchy. The Roman Catholic Church with its hierarchy
of pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests is an example of an
episcopal organization as is the Episcopal (Anglican) Church. In congregational
organizations, on the other hand, control over assets and teaching rests in the
assembly of each local congregation. Many protestant denominations are
The Theosophical Society has historically been a congregational organization.
This is because the only membership requirement is to be in sympathy with the 3
declared objects of the Society, which have stood for over 100 years. These
objects encourage complete freedom of inquiry, and enable the Theosophical
society to exist without dogma. When members have banded together in a Branch,
the Branch has historically had the same right of freedom as its members. Where
Branches are incorporated as is the Miami Branch, these freedoms are
traditionally expressed in the Charter and Bylaws of the corporation.
Proposed Bylaw changes #15, #16, #17 and related #9, if ratified, will change
all this. These proposals will completely alter the nature of the Theosophical
Society in America (TSA) from a congregational organization to an episcopal
organization, controlled from the top.
The national Board of Directors in its genuine concern over loss of the Boston
Branch and its assets, has approved these proposed changes to protect the
Society from such further losses. But in doing so, they are unwittingly doing
far more damage to the TSA than would be caused by the loss of a Branch. While
these proposed changes #15, #16 and #17 are aimed at control over Branch assets
by TSA, they will along with absolute control over membership granted the TSA
national Board by proposed Bylaw change #9, also allow TSA to exert its control
over what is taught. This is in complete opposition to the declared objects.
The TSA at present does not have control over what is taught at Branches.
In a recent article, "What Do We Study, What Do We Teach?" by President John
Algeo (The American Theosophist, Late Summer, 1995), John wrote, "if we are a
Theosophical group, that group must also give time, energy and attention to
studying Theosophy, not just Sufism from a Theosophical perspective or The
Wizard of Oz as a Theosophical allegory, but Theosophy itself."
I basically agree with John, and at the Miami Branch we currently offer 4
Theosophical study groups including one on "The Secret Doctrine", another on
"Light on the Path" and yet another on "Theosophical History." In the past year
we have also offered study groups on "The Voice of the Silence" and "The Mahatma
Letters." These are among 24 study groups currently offered at the Miami
Branch. But what our Branch offers are decisions taken at the local level.
They are the will of the members of our Branch. Once the proposed Bylaw changes
are adopted, it will be possible for a future President of TSA, less
democratically inclined than John Algeo, to say to a Branch, "You not only
"must" study certain Theosophical teaching, but you "will" study them. It will
be possible for a future President to say to a Branch, "you no longer will offer
study groups on Astrology, Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, Tarot, etc."
What we can see happening now, as illustrated by Max's posting, is that as time
goes on, members not familiar with the issues and with the improprieties in
attempting to have the national bylaws revised, will just assume that this is
how the TS is. The issue will be lost in the fullness of time, because the TSA
national officers and directors have simply decided that the purported bylaw
changes are valid, and intend to operate under them. New members will know
nothing about the issue. But as controls are eventually tightened over what is
studied and taught in local Lodges, people not even knowing this is an issue,
will likely drop away from the Society. Prospective new members who join the TS
as I did in 1978 because of the freedoms embedded in the 3 declared objects,
will either not join or if they do join, will resign when they discover that the
3 declared objects are not adhered to. It is difficult for me to understand why
our officers and directors on a national level, and similarly, why our officers
and the general council at the international level, want to preside over the
diminishment into insignificance of the Theosophical Society, which is already
This is why the meeting in St. Louis, October 5, 1996, is really important.
Those of us who honor the 3 declared objects and who have some familiarity with
the changes attempted by national and international officers and directors need
to come together in our support of freedom of thought as embodied in the 3
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