Human Rights

Angry Jesuit Blocks Entrance to Buddhist Temple


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The angry Leprechaun pictured is Fr. George H. Belgarde, S.J. Director of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, NY, who recently ordered a barricade built on Shrine Road, blocking access to the Western Supreme Buddha Temple and headquarters of the World Peace and Heath Organization adjacent to the Shrine. The barricade, built with tree trunks and a sawhorse, was adorned with a large black sign with the word CLOSED painted in red.

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This blogger received a call today from WPHO spokesperson, fellow Buddhist and friend Jennie Wong who had just returned to this area from another mission in China. She asked if I would meet her at the WPHO headquarters to help figure out why this barricade was blocking access to their property at 174 Shrine Road. This barricade not only blocks Buddhists it also prevents mail from being delivered and emergency vehicles from reaching the Temple.

I arrived before Ms Wong and decided to go to the Shrine Office and ask about the barricade. A pleasant receptionist greeted me and I introduced myself stating my business. She entered the next room informing the occupants and told me I could go right in. I saw a small man dressed in black talking with someone else and heard him state “…and he has a camera”. As I approached the next room he stated, “You can wait” and went on with his conversation for another five minutes. I was met by a visibly angry and generally disagreeable little man who I found out later was Fr.Belgarde, the Shrine’s Director. I introduced myself and asked about the barricade. He declined to answer any of my questions stating he would need to see my identification. I gave him my driver’s license which he stared at for about a minute. He then asked me for documentation stating I was a Buddhist. Apparently my physical appearance differed from what he assumed a Buddhist should look like. Another man wearing a red plaid shirt entered the room and stated, “I think I’m the person you want to talk to, I put up the barricade”. He was then silenced by Belgarde, still clinging on to my license, who told the worker he (Belgarde), was taking care of this. After refusing to answer any of my questions, it appeared that Belgarde was enjoying trying to antagonize me. I then asked for my license back and left the building.

Jennie Wong and three other members of the WPHO arrived and we all took another trip down to the Shrine Office only to be met outside by the Jesuit and maintenance worker. Once again they refused to answer any of our questions, referring us to their lawyers. Ms Wong tried reasoning with the Jesuit, asking him to remove the CLOSED sign as it looked as if the WPHO headquarters was closed and not just the road. The antagonistic Jesuit then ordered us to leave HIS property. We then took a trip to the NYS Troopers headquarters in Fonda. Trooper Matt Wheeler, a true professional, listened to the story, made suggestions and agreed to take a look at the barricade and talk to Belgarde. When we returned to Shrine Road we were greeted by a Montgomery County Sheriff who quickly entered his vehicle and moved it to further block the road when he saw us coming. He then exited his vehicle and was in the process of telling us to leave when Trooper Wheeler arrived explaining the other side of the story.

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The result of the debate between the law enforcement officers hinged on whether Shrine Road was a County road or a private road. It appears on maps as a County Road, in which case the barricade is illegal. Part of the original deed agreement was that an alternate access road would be built. While this road was built connecting the Temple with Ridley Road, it has not been graded or paved and does not appear on official maps, GPS or EMS response systems. The steep base of the road makes it difficult to travel without sliding.

What was once a harmonious relationship under the Shrine’s former Director Fr. Murray is now antagonistic and non-communicative under the direction of Fr.George H.Belgarde who appears to have an ax to grind.

Can’t we all just get along?

UPDATE:

Journalist Ed Munger Jr. wrote a great, objective article about this incident titled “Surprise barricade cuts Buddhist Temple access”. It is published in the April 8, 2013, edition of the Daily Gazette. The article can be found at http://www.dailygazette.com.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Human Rights, Law, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , ,

The Politics of Art


It was a great idea that has gone sour.  I wrote about the proposed Amsterdam Center for the Arts back in March of this year, when the city then realized it owned the building that formerly housed a mental health outreach Center for St. Mary’s Hospital at 305 East Main Street. Before that it was a furniture store and a church prior to that. Until last year, it was the polling place for two sections of the 5th Ward. The city had paid the utility bills for the building for years and did not realize that either.  No wonder the Controller is having such a hard time with the budget!

Mayor Thane proposed the space be used for an Art Center. I attended the meetings as I thought this would be great for our community.  As a published photographer who has had a few gallery showings of fine art prints, I realized there was no gallery space anywhere around here.  I decided I would support this effort and attended the planning meetings, made suggestions offered my help with photography and marketing. I had a lot of time and committee experience to give to the effort, until politics got in my way.

After a few meetings with the public, the Mayor decided to hand-pick an advisory committee headed by her former Administrative Aide Thom Georgia. The rests of the committee were women, many who did not take part in any of the planning meetings, but were personal friends of the Mayor.  The newly formed group met privately and would not answer any email inquiries.  They held one public meeting on June 7th where the committee members Thom Georgia, Julia Caro, Jessica Murray, Gail Talmage and Janet Tanguay introduced themselves and presented a mission statement. That is all they had for the interested public who had waited for some sign of progress from the group.  I had many questions, but they were not readily answered.  I asked what role the advisory board played and if the Amsterdam Common Council had approved of this endeavor. Georgia snidely stated, “We only answer to the Mayor.” Prior to establishing an advisory board, the Mayor contracted with an Urban Hip-Hop Dance group to use the center for dance lessons, without Council approval.

Today the advisory board announced they were now an incorporated private entity calling themselves, the Amsterdam Creative Canvas Foundation. The advisory board members were now trustees and another woman, Patrice Vivorito was also named a trustee. I do not know her as she has not attended any of the meetings.

It seems to me that the correct process is for the city’s legislative body to negotiate and approve contracts and use of city property with the Mayor acting as executive to sign the contracts.  I don’t see where this now private corporation has any authority to make decisions about the disposition or use of city property without the approval of the Amsterdam Common Council.

I was a big advocate of creating a community art center for the City of Amsterdam, as you can see in this earlier article, but I can no longer support this tainted effort. The public no longer has any input and micro-management has destroyed what should have been an inclusive democratic process.

I really thought Ann Thane could put party politics aside for the betterment of the community, but I was wrong. It was made very clear when she mistakenly sent me a copy of an email intended for Roberto Milan in which she labels me a looser.

Sour Grapes?

Update:

A newly elected member of the school board for the Amsterdam School District, a former City of Amsterdam Councilman and former Corporation Counsel agree with my assessment of this unsavory situation. The discussion of the Art Center takes place at 18:30 in the video.

Categories: Amsterdam, Art, Human Rights, Law, Photography, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,

Perseverance


With great perseverance, the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization continues their mission of health and peace in the City of Amsterdam.

per·se·ver·ance 
[pur-suh-veer-uhns]  noun
1. A steady persistence, course of action, purpose, state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
2. Theology . continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation.

The happiness and peace you see in the faces of the members of the WPHO is a reflection of their inner beauty. Despite rejection by some members of our community, religious property exemptions taken away by Amsterdam City Assessor Calvin Cline, $6,485 in fines from the City of Amsterdam and repeated burglaries and vandalism of their properties, they continue forward. With the main group continuing their mission in San Francisco and Hong Kong, a core group steadfastly moves from property to property, securing, cleaning and renovating buildings.

I want to introduce you to some of these dedicated people that have become my neighbors and friends.

Regina Law and Juliana Leong

Regina Law, Angus, Joshua Rosenstein and Mo Ming Che

The rectory building of the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street (seen in this August 2011 photo) was boarded up because of several previous burglaries, one I documented here.

The group decided it would be beneficial to move some of their members in this rectory building. To prepare for the move, they have been performing daily renovations. Boarding up a building may help prevent theft but it also sends a signal to would be thieves that the building is unoccupied.

On Wednesday, March 28, 2012, at about 1:40pm Angus and Juliana were working on renovations in the rectory while the rest of the group worked elsewhere.  Suddenly they heard the sound of breaking glass on the second floor. Juliana ran up to the third floor and called the Amsterdam Police. She knew dialing directly would get them there sooner than calling 911.  Angus not realizing what had happened responded to the second floor bedroom where she heard the noise and was confronted by two male burglars who she described as dark-skinned but not black, thin and tall with dark hair.  She estimated the intruders at around 16-18 years old. Upon seeing Angus, the burglars fled back through the second floor window,where they gained access to the building by climbing on a trash can and scampering over the walkway roof and throwing a paint can through the window glass. The storm window slammed shut as the second male exited. Angus noticed a third similar looking male on the sidewalk outside the window.

I noticed two police cars respond to Grove Street as well as the rest of the WPHO work crew. I went over to the rectory building to photo document the incident. The following photo shows the second floor storm window with clear handprints on the outside. The burglars slid the storm window up before breaking the inner locked window.

The next photo shows the second floor bedroom where the burglars entered the building.

Amsterdam Police Officers took statements from the two WPHO members while two Amsterdam Detectives collected forensic evidence.

This incident was particularly disturbing because it happened near my home in broad daylight, yet it was not reported in the local media. The public needs to be aware of the increasing incidents of burglary in the City of Amsterdam.

Two weeks ago the WPHO property at 10 Leonard Street was burglarized once again.  A hole cut in an outside fence and a rope used, allowing  access to the second floor where burglars entered by breaking a window, taking machinery and scrap metal.



Both properties were once again boarded up, secured and padlocked. While the constant repairs may temporarily delay rehabilitation efforts, it does not deter the WPHO mission.

Through all of this adversity the WPHO members remain cautiously optimistic, using training in meditation to find that calming spiritual center that allows them the consciousness of being.

Categories: Amsterdam, Human Rights, Law, Media, Photography, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , ,

Letter to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors


March 7, 2012

Montgomery County Board of Supervisors

County Annex Building P.O. Box 1500 Fonda, New York 12068

I was very dismayed today when I read an article in the March 7th edition of The Leader Herald entitled County to Distribute Tourism Funds. In the article it was stated that the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors voted to award taxpayer money to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs for a Catholic canonization ceremony. Although the amount was minor ($750), it violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

The US Supreme Court in the 1947 ruling Everson v. Board of Education interpreted this as meaning financial support. In the ruling, Justice Hugo Black stated (in part):

No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State”.

While I understand the intention as was to promote tourism, it crosses a line established by the Federal government.

From their website http://www.martyrshrine.org/ we learn that The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is clearly a Catholic organization owned and run by the North American Martyrs Society who’s stated purpose is:

To promote knowledge and veneration of the North American Martyrs…and to emulate to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and their witness to a non-believing culture.

The Director of the North American Martyr Society is Fr. George Belgarde, S.J. (a Jesuit Priest) and the Staff consists of Fr. Robert McGuire, S.J. and four lay people. This is clearly not a secular purpose for government funding.

I respectfully request that the resolution approved to allocate this money to the Catholic organization be rescinded.

Sincerely,

Gerald J. Skrocki

Update #1:

Yesterday I received the following response from the Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.

Update #2:

Dan Weaver wants some of the attention but refuses to post my name, the name of my blog or any of my comments on his online publication:

Of course there was no problem with verifying my identity. I would have respected his right not to post my comment at all, but to compound the situation with an outright lie discredits Weaver’s publication.

Update #3:

The legal team from Americans United for Separation of Church and State send a letter to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.

Update #4:

The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs declines the grant from the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. From an article published in the Recorder, written by reporter Heather Nellis, the Shrine event coordinator Beth Lynch states:

“We are what we are — a highly visible and deeply Catholic entity. We’re glad that we can contribute to the economy as far as tourism is concerned, but that’s not our main focus — we are a Catholic shrine, and we’re not going to agree that we have to do something on secular terms.”

This is exactly the point I have been trying to convey all along. No secular purpose = no public funding.

Categories: Amsterdam, Human Rights, Law, Media, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

GOP and the Religious Wrong


Just when did the Republican Party become a religious organization? I am disgusted by anti-gay statements made by Republican candidates for the top elected office in the United States. These candidates are using religious-based bigotry to play on the public’s fears in an effort to garner votes from the religious right. Since when is it OK to demonize a class of people in the United States, vowing to strip away civil rights?

Barry Goldwater – Republican Senator from Arizona tried to warn us about this public threat in a speech to the US Senate in 1981.

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.
I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

Goldwater issued another warning in 1994 , as quoted in John W. Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

That time has come. Republicans using the name of God have declared war on gay Americans, vowing to repeal all marriage equality laws stating that gay Americans can be cured despite the fact that being gay is not an illness. We have Republican Presidential candidates like Rick Santorum wanting to reinstate the military’s failed DADT policy. Santorum who never served his country in the military, stated the repeal of the policy was “detrimental to soldiers”.  The Republican pseudo-religious group calling themselves the Family Research Council stated that repealing DADT would cause 30% of the military forces to leave the military.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The repeal of the policy has had absolutely no effect, other than to finally end the discrimination against gays and lesbians who serve.

The Family Research Council is listed as a HATE GROUP by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of their anti-gay rhetoric that uses false information to persuade political opinion such as linking gay men to pedophilia and pushing to criminalize gay behavior.  The actions of this group are not unlike those exhibited in Nazi Germany who criminalized, warehoused and executed gays and Jews in World War II.

The Family Research Council isn’t really pro-family as much as it is anti-gay. The FRC awarded Republican Representative Joe Walsh with a pro-family award despite the fact that the deadbeat dad owed $117,000 in unpaid child support to his ex-wife.

With each day that passes, more Americans are beginning to understand how the Bible was misused in the past to bolster personal prejudices and fears in trying to control the masses. It was used to enforce slavery, to prevent interracial marriage and to treat women as second class citizens. Today the minority target is gay Americans. It is NOT OK to bring these beliefs into the political arena. The Separation Clause of the 1st Amendment was interpreted by the US Supreme Court as prohibiting  the same.

Attempting to legitimize this type of bigotry against gay Americans in the name of religious teachings also has a detrimental affect on children in today’s society, giving them a reason to bully others who are gay.

New York State legalized same-sex marriage last year and previously instituted legislation to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in the form of the Hate Crimes Act of 2000. In 2003 the term sexual orientation was added to the NYS Human Rights Act which among other things, prohibits discrimination in job hiring, public accommodation and housing.

Under NYS Education Law, the Dignity for all Students Act becomes effective July 1, 2012. This anti-bullying law states in part:

§  12. Discrimination and harassment prohibited. 1. No student shall be subjected to harassment by employees or students on school property or at a school function;  nor shall  any  student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s  actual  or  perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic  group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function.

Gay Americans have faced discrimination and adversity for far to long to have these civil rights (yes they are civil rights protected by the 14th Amendment) stripped away by Republican wannabes wearing religion on their sleeves.

Categories: Family, Human Rights, Media, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

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