Attorney General’s Office asks Court to reject the deal. A Brooklyn courtroom was filled with Krishna devotees this past Wednesday for a hearing on a petition asking the Court to allow the Brooklyn Hare Krishna temple to be sold. The petition was filed by Ramabhadra Dasa, the former president of ISKCON Brooklyn. New York Assistant Attorney General Abigail Young appeared in court to oppose the petition, as did attorneys for the ISKCON GBC, for a renewed, GBC-supported temple board, and for members of the congregation.
For the sale of a place of worship, the State of New York requires Court approval. Typically, the seller first seeks approval from the State’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG). If the OAG approves, the Court it likely to approve as well. But on September 26 the OAG notified Ramabhadra that after nearly two years of back and forth, it had declined, once and for all, his request for OAG approval. If you want to pursue the sale, the OAG told him, you will have to take your request to the Court. That is what Ramabhadra chose to do. In late October he filed his petition with the Court, asking approval for the proposed sale.
On Wednesday the attorneys for the GBC and for members of the congregation filed with the Court their responses, outlining their many reasons why permission for the sale should be denied. Some fifty or more New York devotees packed into the courtroom to show support for keeping the temple in its present location. Advocating the sale, only four now-removed members of the temple board showed up: Ramabhadra Dasa, Adi Deva Dasa, and their wives. (They were accompanied by two lawyers.)
The GBC, at its midterm meeting in October in Ujjain, India, had reaffirmed Ramabhadra’s removal as temple president and had also removed him and all but two members from the temple’s board of directors. The GBC authorized the Brooklyn Temple Sale Committee (BTSC) to fill the vacant slots and make any other adjustments needed.
The board members kept were Satya Devi Dasi and Adi Deva Dasa. “They had served on the board for many years,” said Sesa Dasa, chairman of the BTSC, “so we wanted to give them a chance to cooperate and continue.” But when the first meeting of the renewed board was held and neither Satya or Adi Deva (although invited) chose to appear, the board appointed two new board members to replace them.
The new chairman of the board is Vaisesika Dasa. Pyari Mohana Dasa, the regional secretary for New England, is also a board member. Both are disciples of Srila Prabhupada. All the other members of the renewed board are local devotees from the Radha Govinda congregation.
At the court hearing, the devotees present didn’t see much legal action. Ramabhadra’s lawyers asked for–and received–a “continuance,” or postponement, of the hearings to have time to study the GBC’s objections. A new court date was set: January 31. But, most significant, in the Court proceedings on Wednesday the OAG filed its own objections to the proposed sale. The OAG detailed several grounds on which Ramabhadra’s plan had failed to prove persuasive. In fact, the OAG observed that Ramabhadra didn’t have much of a plan at all. The OAG therefore asked the Court to turn the petition down.
On behalf of the OAG, the Assistant Attorney General wrote, “[It] is unusual in a transaction of this nature involving a sale of a large and active religious corporation not to set forth a clear plan to move religious artifacts and establish a transitional house of worship as well as clear outlines for the development of a permanent new house of worship with proceeds. We would ask that the Court reject the Petition until Petitioner can provide such a plan approved by all internal bodies.”
The OAG’s reference to “all internal bodies” also appears significant. The Hare Krishna movement’s ultimate internal body, the GBC, has clearly declared its disapproval of selling the Brooklyn Radha-Govinda temple. With the GBC, the OAG, and a majority of the congregation standing firmly opposed to the sale, the chances of Ramabhadra’s winning Court approval seem poor. And so one member of the congregation said, “I’d say to Ramabhadra Prabhu and his people: If you really love Radha Govinda, don’t waste Their money on a hopeless dream. Let’s cooperate and serve Them together in ISKCON.”