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Rajneesh Take-Over in Antelope, Oregon - Jens Johansen

Longtime residents of Antelope failed on April 15th [1982, ed.] to vote their town out of existence rather than have it taken over by the disciples of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. That vote was the latest step in a six-month legal battle between the red-robed followers of Rajneesh and a town that doesn’t want them. "The city has lost its identity as a little western town. As of now, our homes are worth nothing," said mayor Margaret Hill. Residents said they feared Rajneesh, who bought a 65,000-acre ranch 18 miles from town in July of 1981, would raise taxes and force out any norimembers.

Ma Sheela Silvermann, president of Rajneesh Foundation International, denied the charges and said the followers, who now number about 330, wanted to keep to themselves, but Oregon zoning laws forced them to buy commercial property in town.

The Rajneesh Foundation first operated a mail-order store in Antelope to ship tracts and tapes of Rajneesh’s messages to its estimated 250,000 adherents worldwide. The city council balked when the foundation, which holds title to the ranch, wanted to build a printing plant. The council refused to issue a building permit, and the commune responded by buying up more property and moving its followers into town.

The Rajneesh followers claim they are victims of religious discrimination. Some of them say they may run for city office now that they have turned back an attempt by old-time residents to disincorporate the tiny community. Five of the seven council seats will be up for election in November, including the jobs of mayor and city recorder, but the Rajneesh followers insist they aren’t about to organize a movement to overtake the entire town government in November’s general election.

Whereas the city council members admit they don’t like the newcomers, they say they are not discriminating against them. They also admit they are not happy with the prospect of a worldwide guru festival, planned to take place at the ranch in July, that could draw as many as 10,000 visitors to the area.

--Jens Johansen, Secretary SON (Samarbejdsudvalget Om Nyreligiøsitet)