Smith Center residents balk at Peace Palaces

NBC KHAS News, Kansas/May 20, 2008

Two years ago an international peace group chose Smith County, Kansas for its world capital of peace. Since then, the number of people against the project has grown larger and more vocal.

Main Street, Smith Center, Kanas - among the restaurants, banks, and churches, sits the office for Global Country of World Peace.

They are an international organization created to eliminate violence, disease and poverty through transcendental meditation. But many here view them in a different light.

"I look at it as a cult," said Helen Hooper.

"I believe they are a cult, yes," Hi Lambert said.

"I think they are a cult," said Stanley Hooper.

"A typical cult, basically," Charlene Lambert said.

Charlene and Hi Lambert have spent the last year or so doing extensive research on the group. From newspaper clippings to financial records to conversations with former members.

"Just all of a sudden got a passion to know more about the group. Learning about the deceitfulness and the scam stuff, that just...I just wanted people in our community to know what the organization is really about," said

Global Country of World Peace says it is a non–partisan, non–religious group. But the people of Smith Center are not so convinced.

"I do feel like it is a religion because there is a temple, they call it a temple, and they worship the sun," said Tony Peterson.

"They do have religious undertones, the have religious roots. We feel there are only two spirits represented in this world: the spirit of God and the spirit of Satan. They are not being of the spirit of God. We feel the spirit they represent would be Satan - in opposition to the spirit we represent," said Pastor Dennis Lambert.

"And from a Christian point of view, when I think of young people that could become involved in this, it is just so contrary to what we as Christians believe," Helen Hooper said.

"I see a clash ahead of us," said Stan Hooper.

Global Country of World Peace leaders say these structures to the north of town are for a $60 million college: Maharishi Central University.

It will combine traditional academic principles with their techniques of transcendental meditation.

They say they are anything but a cult.

"Well, the people are never taught what to think," Kay Michener said.

Gary Weisenberger has practiced transcendental meditation for 33 years.

"Transcendental Meditation is a relaxation technique that allows you to get rid of stress, develop your full potential as a human being," said Weisenberger.

Three decades later, he remains a firm believer.

"Gotten out of it what I wanted and much more - more than I thought it would be," Weisenberger said.

But Charlene Lambert said she has talked to countless others who have left the group with a less favorable opinion.

"I have had several people involved in the organization say they believe they are a cult," said Charlene. "Quite frankly it is pretty scary for most of them and just the thought of having that kind of cult in our area is a concern."

Many in Smith Center have been against the peace project since the beginning.

"We have always been opposed to them being in our county," Hi said.

Others remained neutral or openly supported the project. Two years later, finding these people is a lot harder.

"They came in with a real rosey picture of what was going on, and you look at what is going on, and I do not see it myself," Stanley said. "Some of the people that were the firmest supporters at first have kind of backed off a little bit."

And those who have opposed it from the start are only more passionate.

"We would like to have them abandon the situation and go away, but that may not happen. Someday it would be nice to see some other organization get into the buildings and bring something to our community that would be good for it," said Hi.

Global Country for World Peace leaders told News 5 they are disappointed they do not have the support of Smith Center.

But they said the group has plenty of resources and support across the world and they plan to move forward with their college.

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