Two leaders of the former Rajneesh commune in Oregon have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to poison people in order to influence the outcome of an Oregon election.
More than 600 persons became ill and 45 were hospitalized in an outbreak of salmonella poisoning in The Dalles, Ore., from Aug. 16 through Sept. 24, 1984. The indictment charges that the outbreak was caused by the placement of salmonella bacteria in the salad bars of 10 restaurants at the direction of Ma Anand Sheela, 36, former secretary to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
According to the indictment, the salmonella poisoning was a test by Sheela and Dianne Ivonne Onang, former head of the commune's medical section, to see whether large numbers of potential voters could be made sick enough to keep them from the polls in a county election affecting the commune.
The commune gathered busloads of homeless persons from Washington, New York and other cities and transported them to Oregon to vote in the election. When county officials halted registration of new voters, the homeless were abandoned in nearby Oregon communities.
In a related development, 10 of the 93 Rolls-Royce cars owned by the Bhagwan, who has been deported, were auctioned in Los Angeles last week for more than $70,000 each by a Texas company that had bought 86 of them.
Each of the cars was painted in a colorful motif that reflected some aspect of the free-spending guru's teachings, and each had a name that reflected its decor. An official of the Texas company estimated that the paint jobs alone were worth from $25,000 to $35,000.
The most mileage registered on any of the cars on sale was the 3,000 miles on the dials of "Sunrise and Sunset," the car said to be the guru's favorite.
Religious leaders in New Mexico gave mixed reviews to Gov. Toney Anaya's enrolling of the entire state into the Sanctuary Movement.
Leaders of the 12-denomination New Mexico Conference of Churches, who had been urging the move since last fall, praised the governor's action, taken on Good Friday, which made New Mexico the first state to become a sanctuary.
But the Rev. Donald Starkey, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sante Fe, called the move "an unwise violation of the due process of our legal system" and "another high-handed act of our governor."
Unlike its Arizona neighbor, New Mexico has been only marginally involved in the problem of undocumented aliens from Central America. The border shared with Mexico is considerably shorter, the region is sparsely populated and there are few established crossing points favored by refugees.
But the Rev. Wallace Ford, executive secretary of the Conference of Churches, said that while the governor's action was largely symbolic, "we're hoping it will keep the issue in the consciousness of people."
A federal appeals court has dismissed the suit filed by a number of religious groups in September 1984, challenging the agreement of the Reagan administration to exchange formal ambassadors with the Vatican.
The suit, filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, maintained that the arrangement unfairly gave preference to one religious group and argued that the action was taken without adequate public consultation or "serious congressional scrutiny."
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously dismissed the action, maintaining that the plaintiffs cannot prove they have been injured and thus have no legal standing to bring the suit.
The court also held that the Constitution gives the president the sole authority to handle diplomatic affairs and the courts should not interfere.
The people in United Methodist pews around the country will have a chance to talk back to that part of officialdom carrying out one of the church's most sensitive chores: the development of a new hymnal.
The nearly 800 reader-consultants to the hymnal revision panel have been asked to convene forums during this spring's round of Annual Conference meetings throughout the church.
The Rev. Carlton R. Young, editor of the new hymnal, said the feedback sessions were proposed as "just another way we can keep in touch with the church as a whole."
Rabbi Kenneth Cohen, 33, a Georgetown University graduate whose first rabbinical assignment was in Cardiff, Wales, will be the new spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom in Columbia, Md.