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The Battle Of A New Age Religion and Local Oregonians in the 1980s

Earlier this week I watched the Netflix documentary, “Wild Wild West” which was about the religious leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, his secretary Ma Anand Sheela, and his followers who moved from India to the town of Antelope, Oregon to establish a commune. Bhagwan wanted to enlighten his followers and to increase their self awareness in ways very unconventional to most modern societies and cultures. While most religions seek to stem sexual behavior, Bhagwan did the opposite by completely embellishing in the expression of sexuality in the public domain.

The open sexuality of his followers drew strong condemnation by the locals who lived in Antelope, Oregon before Bhagwan’s followers arrived. When Bhagwan and his secretary worked to get their followers on the city council, the city council put forth a ballot measure to disincorporate as a city, as a way to deny Bhagwan’s followers any chance of obtaining political power and establishing local ordinances.

The measure to disband Antelope as a city failed, and Bhagwan’s followers obtained a majority on the city council. Thus, the council members passed ordinances permitting nude sunbathing and other liberal nudity laws.

However, with the victory, in spite of the prejudice of others which led to violent acts, such as the bombing of a commune hotel, Sheela became very arrogant and publicly called for a takeover of the county board of supervisors.

With the public proclamation came resistance from members of the county government, especially from the Board of Voter Registration. Forty days before the general election for board of supervisor seats, the register declined to not accept any new voter registrations, forty days before the election, even though individuals who lived in Oregon for twenty days or longer could register to vote. Therefore a gross violation of the right to vote was violated by the blanket denial of voter registrations before an election.

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