On January 9-12, 2020, thirty devotee attorneys, jurists and law students hailing from the United Kingdom, Russia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Hungary, Lithuania, Brazil, Nigeria, Uganda, Singapore and the United States attended the 2020 ISKCON Global Conference of Devotee Attorneys at the Historic Thomas Center in Gainesville, Florida. The term “devotee attorney” refers to any devotee or friend of Krishna, who is an attorney, jurist or law student.
Created by the GBC Body at its 2018 GBC Annual Midterm Meeting in Kanpur, India, the ISKCON Law Department is led by Singaporean devotee attorney, Devakinandan Das, in his role as ISKCON General Counsel.
The dual purpose of the Conference was (1) to enable devotee attorneys from around the world to get acquainted in an atmosphere of collegiality and devotion to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna, and (2) to develop an integrated network of legal service providers capable of meeting the 21st-century needs of ISKCON and its devotees. The ISKCON Law Department is intended to make sound and timely legal advice available to ISKCON decision-makers at the temple, zonal and GBC levels.
ISKCON General Counsel Devakinandan Das opened the Conference by providing a historical overview of the legal challenges that have confronted ISKCON in the past and the often ad hoc manner in which they were addressed. Since ISKCON’s inception more than 50 years ago, there has been no team of in-house legal professionals able to guide ISKCON through the minefield of legal problems. Devakinandan Das reminded the assembled devotee attorneys that while ISKCON is organized for spiritual purposes, it must function in the material world, which requires awareness of and compliance with myriad legal requirements imposed by local governments and nations throughout the world. A proactive and formally organized approach to legal matters, he said, will assist greatly to protect ISKCON’s assets, limit potential liabilities, deal with conflict, and ensure more informed decision-making by ISKCON’s leaders.
The Conference was organized by Guru Gauranga Das, who has been a tireless advocate for the creation of an ISKCON Law Department. Most recently, Guru Gauranga Das has served with distinction as the quarterback of the legal team litigating to prevent the sale of ISKCON’s Radha-Govinda Temple in New York City and to block the Temple’s disaffiliation from ISKCON. The New York court case is not yet over, however, as the former temple directors are currently pursuing an appeal.
Also speaking at the Conference was Maha-Balaram Das representing the Russian Hare Krishna movement. With his wife translating, Maha-Balaram described the difficulties faced by Russian devotees in rendering devotional service, including harinam sankirtan and book distribution. The Conference was inspired by his account of the strategies he has pursued to create an environment where devotees are free to legally practice their faith and serve the mission of Srila Prabhupada.
Radha Dasi spoke on the subject of child abuse in religious organizations and the enormous liabilities that may arise in ISKCON if this issue is not properly addressed. Her remarks were augmented by Lilasuka Dasi, the director of ISKCON’s North American Child Protection Office, who outlined specific steps that should be taken to prevent child abuse.
Fernando Del Canto, a distinguished British barrister and Spanish abogado, joined the Conference by video streaming from London, to discuss strategies for securing ISKCON’s intellectual property (trademarks and copyrighted materials). Vraj Vihari Das (Director of ISKCONResolve) and Mary Rowe (a professor at at MIT Business School) spoke on Gita values and faith-based conflict resolution procedures They emphasized the availability of ISKCONResolve as a resource to mediate and/or arbitrate disputes that may arise among devotees. Rasikananada Das from Hungary made an insightful presentation on how devotee attorneys can more effectively balance the demands of being a devotee and an attorney.
Anuttama Das, ISKCON’s Minister of Communications, who attended the Conference as a guest presenter, described how ISKCON can prevail in the “court of public opinion.” He predicted that the Law Department and Communications Department will have many opportunities to work together in support of ISKCON.
A final “open forum” was facilitated by Vinay Tanna from London, in which participants reported that the Conference had been an extraordinary and inspiring experience. In this Conference “wrap-up” event, participants shared ideas about combining their diverse legal skill sets to consistently provide ISKCON with sound and timely legal advice and representation.
In his concluding remarks, Devakinandan Das expressed his appreciation to all who participated and helped make the 2020 ISKCON Global Conference of Devotee Attorneys a success, in particular, Guru Gauranga Das (Conference organizer), Kumari Kunti Dasi (Conference coordinator) and Siddhanta Das (Conference videographer). Devakinandan Das concluded that the Conference was an auspicious beginning and expressed enthusiasm about the benefits to ISKCON that will be provided by its Law Department.
For more information on the goals and activities of the ISKCON Law Department, feel free to contact Devakinandan Das, ISKCON General Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.