Spirit Rock's Noah Levine Decision Not Based In Fundamental American Values Of Fairness

Spirit Rock Meditation Centers actions this week, including both the unprecedented decision to remove Noah Levine’s teaching authorization and the release of a statement explaining the decision in hysteria-inducing language, are in disregard of basic American ideas of fairness and decency.

Americans support due process, and based on overwhelming poll numbers that includes a lot of American Buddhists. Americans have upheld the principles of the right to confront your accusers and the right to an impartial jury or judge to decide an individuals fate for two centuries. Especially when it comes to accusations powerful enough to destroy reputations. Ignoring the value American buddhists place on due process protections damages the credibility of the Spirit Rock decision, the organization and its ability to be a leader in the insight meditation movement .

In a survey from the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy, conducted by YouGov in August of 2018, respondents agreed that due process is necessary for those accused of sexual assault.

“Sixty-five percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans, and 67 percent of Independents surveyed told researchers they agreed with the statement: “Students accused of crimes on college campuses should receive the same civil liberties protections from their colleges that they receive in the court system.”

Sixty-one percent of all respondents, including 58 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Independents, agreed that accused students should have the right to cross-examine their accusers.

Seventy one percent of respondents said accused students should be judged under the “clear and convincing” standard of evidence. Currently, a student can be expelled using verdicts derived from the the lowest civil standard, “preponderance of evidence” An overwhelming 81 percent of respondents said “all those accused should have the right to know the charges against them”.

Sixty nine percent of respondents (including 65 percent of Democrats) said “sex assault allegations should be handled primarily by police”.

For the Noah Levine decision to have creditability with American Buddhists who know the principles underlying our society, Spirit Rock would be better served relying on our justice system’s standards of proof, definitions of crimes and by following american court procedures that seek to eliminate bias against those accused.

The goal of the religious court or tribunal is to have it both ways. To conduct a process in-house that will not allow the press to write about the details of allegations and harm the reputation of the church. Then to issue a verdict that shows the church is not standing idly by and is punishing any teacher who breaks the rules. The vague and damning language of the Spirit Rock statement is a classic of this type of combined secrecy and virtue signaling.

The problems with this type of process are obvious, and when it comes to secular society, settled law. The first major problem is that the secrecy of the process and the vagueness of the religious standards used to find guilt are blatant invitations to eliminate political and professional rivals based on unsubstantiated and often anonymous accusations. The second obvious problem is the lack of due process standards in church hearings. In order for the public to believe in a verdict, the accused must have the right to cross-examine their accusers and the right to an impartial jury or judge to render a verdict. Americans when questioned agree with these simple standards.

The secrecy of the hearings and the reports used in recent buddhist religious hearings is destructive to the American Buddhist sangha. The vague and easily manipulated standards of religious ethics do not serve any buddhist organization in 2019. Sangha’s who adhere to these outdated monastic council models will likely be divided as the credibility of their secret decision making will not stand up to long-term public opinion.

Sangha’s that offer due process protections to all can avoid the hysteria and destruction of the present climate. Allow the experts in our courts to define terms like sexual harassment. Emulate the schools and agencies who are now being compelled by the courts to abandon illegal hearing methods.

Spirit Rock (and the former leaders of Against The Stream for that matter), can still do the right thing and use this terrible situation as an opportunity to lead. An immediate revisiting of this flawed process would be a reasonable place to start. In addition to believing in due process, American Buddhists overwhelmingly believe in the power of apology and amends.

—The American Buddhist