Against the Gates of Hell

Part II

Excerpts from Stan Raders book-
“Against the gates of hell: The threat to religious freedom in America”

Against the Gates of Hell "What is it about the gates of Hell that compels people to wander into it?"
Against the Gates of Hell
“What is it about the gates of Hell that compels people to wander into it?”

We had to mobilize our defenses and there was not a moment to lose. I knew that Ralph K. Helge, counsel for the Church as well as a director and its secretary, was in Tucson on Church business. I asked Virginia to call him at once. She reached him by page at the airport, while she was telling him what was occurring, she looked up and saw a local policeman behind the locked door, banging on the glass with his billy club and demanding entrance. Helge said he’d be in Pasadena within the hour to confer with me at my home.

Not even a policeman threatening arrest could make Virginia or her staff of loyal secretaries buckle. “It’s my job to protect this office,” she told him through the glass. “You’re not coming in!” Meanwhile, I instructed Virginia to call all offices at the college. Every critical entrance and exit must be locked and guarded to prevent anyone from removing records until the papers flaunted by the invaders were studied to determine what they were and if they had been properly and constitutionally executed.

As an attorney, as an American, I have faith in the American, system of justice. If a clearly illegal act was being committed, I felt certain that, in the end, the law would prevail. In the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution such sacred precepts as due process of law, presumption of innocence, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are clearly set forth.

I began rounding up the Church’s lawyers to state our case, called Morton Gerson, a young attorney who had acted in our behalf from time to time, and asked him to obtain the documents the invaders were using as excuse to “take over” the Church and college. He got them from Virginia and brought them to my home; we then drove at once to the office of Allan Browne of the law firm of Ervin, Cohen and Jessup, on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Allan, a classmate of mine at the University of Southern California Law School, is a brilliant attorney with whom the Church consults often on legal matters.

We began poring over the papers. Soon Ralph Helge joined us; en route from Tucson he had received a special message from us I which the pilot had delivered to him in midair. After reading the documents, their full meaning became only too plain. The most dramatic — and the most perilous — confrontation between Church and State in the two centuries of American history had begun.

Chapter 5: Star Chamber

Late in 1978, several dissident, former Church members trooped into the law offices of Hillel Chodos in Beverly Hills with a list of so-called improprieties they said were occurring within the Church. After hearing them out, Chodos went to see Lawrence R. Tapper, deputy attorney general of the state of California, and recited to him the accusations made by his clients.

Tapper listened. Then without investigating or verifying any of the charges, without notifying Church officials and giving them their Constitutionally guaranteed right to refute or explain them, he set into motion legal machinery for seizure.

The first step was to draw up a complaint based on the false charges. Next, contrary to the courts own rules, a Judge was Telephoned for a nearing for the appointment of a receiver on an ex exparte basis.

It is crucial to understand the meaning of this legalistic Latinism. An ex parte order is a legal instrument made by or in the interest of only one party to an action. It is a remedy granted by judges only in instances where urgent action is essential to prevent a gross injustice. Let me cite examples. If a businessman is convinced, and presents satisfactory evidence, that his partner will close out an account or flee with assets of a jointly owned company, he may apply for and receive ex parte relief. If an estranged wife has reason to believe, and can offer proof, that a husband is on the verge of removing their children to another state, a judge may sign such an order.

But in the vast majority of cases, orders that could have serious consequences to one of the parties involved in litigation are granted only after hearings at which all sides — have had a chance, to be heard. Receiverships, especially, are normally ordered only after extensive legal proceedings in which plaintiffs offer compelling need for such action, and defendants are given their day in court. Never can such a hearing take place without four hours’ notice to the other party.

The Worldwide Church of God was not given this notice. Tapper and Chodos got the illegal hearing as requested, and a receiver was named-all without notice to the Church. Every step of the way, from complaint to receivership, the Church was kept in the dark about proceedings that involved its independence and its very existence.

It was not until one month afterward that we learned a court reporter had been present at the hearing, conducted on January 2, 1979 in the chambers of Judge Jerry Pacht,* sitting in Department 85 of the Los Angeles Superior Court. According to the reporter’s transcript, Tapper attended, accompanied by Hillel Chodos, his brother Rafael, and their associate Hugh John Gibson, attorneys for the six complainants or “relators,” as they were called in the complaint. Also present was former Judge Steven Weisman a close personal friend of Hillel Chodos and the petitioners’ hand-picked candidate for the receiver’s job. Named, as respondents in the suit were several corporations, including the Church, Ambassador College, and the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation. Also named, as respondents were certain individuals, principally Herbert Armstrong and Stanley Rader.

The transcript is highly revealing. Note, for example, this statement made to the judge almost at the outset by Hillel Chodos: “Your Honor, I want to interrupt just to state for the record, a copy of the proposed pleadings was furnished to you this morning. The original is in my briefcase. It has not yet been filed [my emphasis], but we are prepared to file it and pay the necessary fee at any moment.

“It is just that we did not want a public filing before coming to see you. I spoke to the clerk this morning and told him we would talk about that.” Judge Pacht responded: “Well, we are going to have to get it filed if I am going to grant you any relief, as I am sure I don’t have to tell you, Mr. Chodos.”

The proceedings ignored a specific mandate published in the Writs and Receivers Manual of the Los Angeles Superior Court. Rules 205.2 and 303.5 of the manual require that all attorneys who plan to submit ex parte applications must notify either the opposing party or his counsel in advance, so that the other side may appear and be given its chance to have its say. Nothing in the transcript of the proceedings even hints that this was done.

To his credit, however, it must be said that Hillel Chodos was at least aware that we should have been informed and said so: “I recognize that any request for an ex parte receiver, without notice, has to be viewed against a strong presumption that it is an emergency measure to be used with great caution,” he told Judge Pacht. “I would suggest to you, however, that at least insofar as pertains to the Worldwide Church of God, Inc., Ambassador College, Inc., and Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, Inc., that the usual principles are not applicable. All of these corporations are organized and exist under California law exclusively for charitable, religious, and educational purposes.” Their property, he argued, “rests in the court’s custody, subject to the supervision of the court on the application of the attorney general. In effect, there are no private interests.”

Chodos was now expounding a strange concept with awesome implications for all religious organizations. Heed closely what he was saying: The court’s powers run “to all persons within the court’s jurisdiction, and particularly to charitable trusts which are organizing and existing under the State of California [my emphasis]. In fact, this court, as I understand it, is the only court that has complete jurisdiction and supervision over the affairs of these three charitable corporations.” The attorney general agreed with the view that all churches in the state of California are actually “charitable trusts.” And, when the session that afternoon ended, Judge Pacht ruled that this was indeed so. By accepting this concept, all concerned did nothing less than trample upon such Constitutional rights as due process, the First Amendment guarantee of separation of Church and State and other basic protections for citizens of the United States of America.

For if a church, whatever its denomination, is to be construed as a “charitable trust,” it cannot own its own property. it is not the master of its own affairs. Its leaders are no more than trustees who serve at the pleasure of the State. Its assets are not its own but become public records. A church is nothing but a ward of the court, each of its actions subject to State scrutiny — which has no limitations — and to its supervision and control.

A church, in short, is no longer independent but subject to the trust laws. It was a concept as illogical as a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Indeed, attorney Allan Browne, in a memorandum several months later, wrote this little parody:

ALICE: When is a church not a church?

WHITE RABBIT: When it is a charitable trust!

ALICE: When does a church become a charitable trust?

WHITE RABBIT: When the State says so.

ALICE: Things are becoming curiouser and curiouser.

For about half an hour, Tapper, Chodos, and their handpicked candidate for the receiver’s job argued the fate of the great and flourishing Worldwide Church of God, with no representative of the Church present to defend itself.

What, indeed, were the complaints? Most were based, not on hard fact and actual knowledge on the part of any of the dissidents, but on the tenuous grounds of “information and belief,” legalese for “gossip and rumor.”

Attached to the complaints were a number of declarations signed by certain relators and attorneys, but none of them in the proper form to constitute evidence in a court of law. The accusations were based almost wholly on hearsay — in some cases double and triple hearsay, meaning that the complainants heard their stories from someone who got them from another party who had been told by — etc.!

In support of these requests to the court, the complaint listed in inflammatory language a number of specific charges, among them that Armstrong, Rader, and others were “siphoning off” Church assets for their “own personal use and benefit”; that this 14 pilfering” of Church revenues was continuing “on a massive scale”; that during the previous six months the properties of the Church were being liquidated on the same “massive scale”; and that the defendants were even then busily shredding, destroying, and otherwise disposing of records of financial dealings “in an effort to frustrate discovery of their wrongdoing and to obscure the facts.”

The attorney general’s complaint was divided into four sections.

The first sought an accounting of Church funds;

the second asked that the directors of the Church be removed and a new board be chosen by vote of the members;

the third asked for appointment of a receiver;

and the fourth sought injunctive relief to insure cooperation.

Not one of the accusations had any validity whatever. Soon afterward, evidence was offered to the courts proving them false.* Nevertheless, on that afternoon in Judge Pacht’s chambers, the Worldwide Church of God was dealt a stunning blow. By a stroke of the pen, it was thrown into receivership — perhaps the most drastic remedy known to the law.

The receivership order armed one individual with extraordinary powers. He was not a member of the Church. He knew little, perhaps nothing at all, about its history and traditions. He had no knowledge of its doctrines, global reputation, goals, and diverse activities in all its fields.

*See pages 88-93 for a point-by-point examination and refutation of the charges leveled at the Church and its leaders.

(Editors note: Within these pages* Rader offers bullshit/whining excuses about the state, the receivership, all the havoc that occurred at the time, etc. Most of the wcg’s problems at this point were caused by their own bad behavior. What they taught from the pulpit about obeying government was thrown to the wind by Herbert Armstrong. He told members to send their tithes to Tucson (Herbies safehouse) which caused financial issues for the church. But wait there’s more, the financial fleecing of the flock continues:

Stan the man…

Word of the appointment of a new receiver was heard with alarm by the membership.

Once again, as they did less than two months earlier, men, women, and children converged on headquarters in a massive protest demonstration.

Once again families poured in from all over, with suitcases, sleeping bags, Bibles, games for the children, sandwiches, and coffee jugs, determined to remain until this new burden was lifted.

As before, they stationed themselves inside the building, human barricades against the imposition of the court order they deemed illegal.

They were there for prayer and meditation, and, as in the earlier demonstration, they were prepared to go to jail rather than have their Church taken over by an outsider.

Our attorneys instantly filed an appeal. Pending its outcome, Judge Title required the Church to post a $1 million bond if we wanted to keep the new receiver away.

On Tuesday evening, just a day after the new order was announced and the new sit-in begun, a new miracle occurred. Aaron and Kevin Dean conceived the idea of organizing a vast telephone appeal to raise the needed money.

With the aid of about a dozen volunteers, they manned the phones on the fourth floor of the Administration Building, calling churches all over the United States and Canada. They asked each one to name three members who would, in turn, call other members in their areas.

The results were little short of incredible. By next morning, $200,000 was received in cash, flown and wired in from all over; by afternoon, the total had swelled to $400,000. By then, the appeal had switched from cash to pledges as surety for the bond.

The campaign continued for forty-eight hours, during which the Dean brothers and their aides got virtually no sleep. On Thursday evening, the phone blitz had brought in pledges well beyond the required sum, and before the week was out, the total had reached $3.4 million!

Many hundreds of members responded, signing affidavits in which they pledged anywhere from $100 to as much as $50,000 and higher. The affidavits guaranteed that the signers would come up with cash if it was needed. As collateral for the pledges of $2,000 and more, the members listed assets ranging from jewelry, bank accounts, and automobiles to their homes and furniture. In court, we posted the surety-backed bond, which was accepted by Judge Title. After a final service, the members who had come a second time to defend their church left for home, smiles on their faces.

We could afford to smile, too, but not to relax. While we had regained control over our own affairs, our appeals were moving slowly through the courts, which march in slow cadence. The prohibitory portions of the court’s injunctions were still in effect. The threat that some outsider could once again intrude into our midst hung over our heads like a sword of Damocles, and would not be removed until a final decision had been made. We had been seriously crippled, but thanks to our strength and the remarkable joining of hands by our members, we were still alive and fighting hard to prove that California authorities had no legal right to climb over the high wall separating religion from government. We had some breathing room, but we could not breathe easily — not until the peril to us and all religions in America was ended. 

(Editors note: Shameless propaganda. What they did above was to jeopardize everyones financial future for the benefit of Herbert Armstrong who caused all the problems in the first place.)

Rader also drones on and on about the violation of privacy rights of the people. What his real concerns were, the church databases. In part three we continue with this: 

Yet he came to our Church with full legal authority to do the Following: To take possession and control of the Church, including all its assets, real and personal, tangible and intangible, of every kind and description…

More on the receivership HERE

Part III coming up…