In mid-August last year, I received an email out of the blue from a journalist from the New Zealand Press Association (usually referred to as the NZPA). In the message, he said that he would be writing a feature article on the Baha'is in New Zealand and related topics. He asked if he could talk to me to find out my opinions. I wrote and agreed to be interviewed. Without realising it, I assumed that the journalist - his name was Reg Ponniah - had already spoken to the NSA or its media people. I didn't know what had led him to me, but assumed it was my website.
As it turned out, when Reg and I got talking, I found out that he had not yet spoken to NSA! He contacted me first because he'd been looking on the Internet for information about "Baha'i" and "New Zealand" and my name persistently came up. He said he'd been inspired to write the article in the wake of the hostilities between Israel and Lebanon, in which the Baha'i gardens had been a target. Reg didn't understand that I was not involved with the administration of the faith. So the interview began with my explaining to him how the administration worked and what it meant that I was 'disenrolled'. I also made it clear that I was a believer and gave him my views on my disenrollment and the state of the Baha'i community. It all went very well. Reg said he'd talk to NSA and then get back to me.
I didn't hear from him again, but his article appeared in Wellington's Dominion Post on January 4 2007, headed "Isles of calm in a hateful world". For copyright reasons, I can't quote the whole article. The angle of it is the persecution of the Baha'is. It describes the New Zealand Baha'i community as "thriving and vibrant" and says that its "followers number about 4000 in New Zealand". The 2006 census puts it at 2772 and declining. See Steve's figures on Baha'is Online. Here's the passage that refers to my disenrollment.
"Ms Mahon [NSA secretary] said the Baha'i community was shown on Triangle TV in Auckland recently educating the public about the faith.
"Ours is a unifying message. We accept all religions of all peoples." Baha'is hoped to bring down religious and racial prejudices.
The religion is not without its detractors, however. A long-time Baha'i member said she was unceremoniously kicked out of the faith without any explanation.
Alison Marshall, a lawyer in Dunedin and member of the Baha'i faith for 20 years, said she was "disenrolled" by the National Spiritual Assembly, the NZ Baha'i movement's administrative body, without any satisfactory reason.
But Ms Mahon said Ms Marshall had indicated by her articles on the Internet that her beliefs were not aligned with Baha'i principles. "There are certain requirements followers are obliged to accept. She was not prepared to do that."
Ms Marshall said she became a Baha'i in New Zealand in 1980. "For the next 20 years, I was a loyal and active member of the religion, until 2000." During that time she has had differences with the way the administration was run.
When she was expelled as a member, Ms Marshall took the Baha'is to court. However, the court decided there was no case to answer and that the Baha'i religion was entitled to make its ruling on her membership.
Three people had been expelled from the movement in the past decade: a Canadian in 1997, Ms Marshall in 2000 and another New Zealander last year.
Ms Mahon said every faith had its dissenters."