Hindu leader awaiting trial still barred from Driftwood headquarters, court rules

San Marcos Mercury, Texas/June 24, 2009

The international leader of the JKP-Barsana Dham sect of Hinduism, the 80-year-old Saraswati was arrested in April 2008 for allegedly touching the breasts of then-minors between 1993 and 1996. He was released on $500,000 bonds on the condition that he not leave the country and not come within 200 yards of the Barsana Dham Center on Farm-to-Market Road 1826 near Driftwood, a 200-acre replica of an Indian holy district and the movement’s North American seat. He has been living in a house nearby, court records show.

In May last year, 22nd State District Judge Charles Ramsay relaxed the bond conditions to allow Saraswati to visit India for religious duties backed by $10 million bond posted by infomercial magnate Peter Spiegal, a Saraswati adherent who amassed a fortune in part by selling ionic air purifiers, health supplements and other products via television and telemarketing. In August, Ramsay rejected Saraswati’s request to return to the Barsana Dham Centerb and Saraswati applied for a writ of habeas corpus to the Third Court of Criminal Appeals.

Represented by attorneys that include Tom Garner of San Marcos, Swaraswati argued that the bond conditions violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and, under the Eighth Amendment, did not serve to ensure he’ll appear for trial or to protect the alleged victims or community. Minors do not currently live at Barsana Dham Center.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice J. Woodfin "Woody" Jones and released today, the court rejected the state’s argument that the appeals court did not have jurisdiction to hear what was essentially an appeal of Ramsay’s August ruling denying Swaraswati’s motion to amend the bond conditions. The habeas writ is appropriate, Jones wrote, but said Saraswati waived his right to challenge the bond conditions when he agreed to them following the return of his passport in May 2008.

"In his brief, appellant argues that a habeas corpus petition challenging the legality of one’s restraint or confinement can be filed at any time. This may be true, but it does not answer the states’ argument that appellant, by agreeing to the condition that he not return to Barsana Dham, waived or is estopped from asserting his contention that the condition is unlawful," Jones wrote.

CORRECTION: The article originally said he is 90. He is 80.

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