The Return of the Demon
Monastery Founder Sues Cops, Runs for City Council
So where is Freeman today? For starters, he's running for a position on the Seattle City Council. He's also suing the cops in federal court.
Freeman says he attempted suicide in his youth because his desires as a bisexual teenager didn't mesh with his fundamentalist religious upbringing. The Monastery was his attempt to free spirituality from its traditional confines and build a church free from repression. "We believed that God is in all forms of creativity," he says, sounding like a cross between L. Ron Hubbard and Janis Joplin. "We're all joined in the same universe. No matter who you are, you're a creation of God. The Bible isn't the absolute document on the word of God. It can't be. It was written by man."
The pulpit at the Monastery was the DJ booth, designed with a booming sound system and wild disco lights. The members of the congregation -- kids and adults, white and black, gay and straight -- were left to worship in any way they wished: dancing, declaring brotherly love in private hot-tub baptismal fonts, slipping upstairs to drink from holy sacrament kegs in the loft. At 2:00 a.m., Reverend George would deliver his sermon.
The authorities saw Freeman's operation as suspect from day one. He never obtained a business license, much less a liquor license. He insisted that as a place of worship under the umbrella of the Universal Life Church, his club/church was sheltered from earthly tax codes and liquor laws. Never mind that the Universal Life Church is so notoriously unregulated that anyone with Internet access and five minutes to spare can sign up to become a reverend.
But Freeman remains unrepentant in defense of himself and the unorthodox church he built. "In the eight years of the Monastery," he says, "nobody was ever stabbed, nobody was ever killed, nobody ever OD'd, nobody ever died. The only security we ever used were two people at the front door, the ushers. And yet we ran the gamut of black people, white people, young people, old people, gay people, straight people. All in one head space. The most integrated institution ever to exist in this city! Probably it will never exist again."
Freeman maintains that social drinking is by definition a holy sacrament, and dancing has always been a sacred ritual. "You know when the spirit's there, when the place is hopping and people are jumping and they're crazed and they're having fun and they're down and everybody's on one mental plateau, and they're traveling all together, and you have unity. That's the essence of life.... That was the whole experiment with the Monastery, as opposed to a cult -- this evil, wicked place where people are having sex."
Of course, one man's church is another man's den of sin. One person familiar with the 1985 abatement case against the Monastery would only speak anonymously for fear of violent retaliation from Freeman: "That place was the lowest of the low, the bottom rung on the ladder. It existed as an organization for Freeman and his pederast friends to befriend street kids and prey on them. That's what it was all about. The guy is a con artist and an exploiter of children. It's unbelievable to me that he's thinking of running for public office. I can't even think of an apt analogy."
Indeed, it wasn't long before press accounts, police files, and court affidavits began to paint the Monastery as the nightmarish scene of child hookers, pill pushers, predatory pedophiles, and 11-year-old drag queens. One night, police raided the place and arrested all 225 people in there. They also videotaped them, photographed them, and, according to several accounts, harassed them physically and called them faggots. Charges were dropped against all but three of the people.
Meanwhile, a parent whose 14-year-old son had run away to live with a gay man on Capitol Hill set up a group called Parents in Arms. The group hired the respected attorney Bill Dwyer, today a federal judge, to cooperate with the King County Prosecutor's office and shut down the Monastery.
To do so, they made use of a mountain of evidence collected during undercover operation similar to the controversial approach recently used against Oscar's in the Central District. No arrests were made and problems were documented rather than corrected, in an attempt to build a damning file and abate the Monastery with a preponderance of evidence. Freeman insists to this day that it was all hearsay, and none of the crimes alleged ever led to convictions.
Freeman, whose approach to law is remarkably similar to his approach to theology, represented himself in court. The civil trial lasted two weeks and featured 46 witnesses. Not surprisingly, Freeman lost. In handing down his decision for a "permanent injunction" against Freeman, the judge declared that Freeman's notion that each person is free to decide what's right for his or her body is a philosophy that "would do violence to the very moral fiber of our so-called civilized society."
Over the past decade and a half, Freeman has attempted numerous countersuits and appeals, with little success. Most recently, on August 22, Freeman filed a federal law suit against seven Seattle cops and Lincoln Towing, claiming they violated his rights, illegally impounded his car, and threatened him physically after a false "obstructing justice" arrest a year ago at the Broadway Market.
One of the cops who Freeman claims threatened him was Sergeant Paul Grady, the Capitol Hill bike cop who was the lead investigator 14 years ago in the covert operation that shut down the Monastery. The two men have faced off many times since, and Freeman claims that Grady took the opportunity to intimidate him verbally while he was locked in the holding cell. He also claims that a short while later he was led into a locked squad car and physically threatened by Officer Keith Swank. Freeman says Swank pulled a switchblade knife from a side pocket above his knee and made jabbing motions in his direction.
The SPD's Internal Investigations Section is looking into Freeman's claims. Officer Swank has told IIS investigators he has "no specific recollection" of threatening Freeman with the knife.
Freeman insists that he isn't running for City Council because of a vendetta against the police or anyone else in Seattle. His political views (see box) are all over the map, ranging from vast new public works projects to one-way tickets for homeless people out of impacted neighborhoods and into treatment centers south of downtown.
But whatever your opinion of Freeman, you have to admit that he makes for a lively candidate in an election year where it's very hard to distinguish one candidate from the next. "My mind is a free mind," says Freeman. "I'm not locked into territories that are traditional. And yes, it may get you into trouble, but it's the right way that we should mold a society. We can't go on the way we are."