The Return of the Demon

Monastery Founder Sues Cops, Runs for City Council

IT COMES AS SOMEWHAT of a surprise that George Freeman has neither horns nor a forked tongue. Freeman, the man who founded the Monastery in the late '70s, was all but burned at the stake as the worst corrupter of children in Seattle's history. A relentless team of undercover cops, well-heeled parents, well-meaning lawyers, and fast-rising politicians shut down Freeman's club/church in 1985. That accomplished, they crafted the Teen Dance Ordinance (referred to by Freeman as the George Freeman Law) to ensure that no future Monasteries would ever blemish the city. For good measure, they also banished Freeman from the entertainment/worship business for life.

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."


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Comments (8) RSS

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I think the monastery was a fantastic place for me when I came out in 1980. It was so much fun, and I know many people who have great memories of this place. I will forever be grateful to George for providing a safe place for me to go and have fun. He may have some poor scruples, but I think this article goes overboard in portraying him as the devil. He was not anything like this. My memories of the Monastery are ones that I cherish. I think whomever wrote this article missed the point. At the time in 1980, it wasn't safe to be an out young person. George provided a place for us to be comfortable being who we were, and he showed me that there was nothing wrong with me being a gay person. Today this place would be considered tame. I am sad that young people will not have somewhere to go like the Monastery because a few do gooders decided that it was an evil place.
Posted by monastery_boy on August 21, 2009 at 8:43 PM · Report this
Marshall B 2
Seattle's Monastery was a haven for hundreds or more young gay people, a helluva' after hours sacrament -- the very best, most fabulous dance floor in a very large region -- for thousands of other folks. For all the alleged pedo- crimes, were any ever charged or proven? All the kids I saw were hooked up with age-appropriate other kids; every "bad trip" I was aware of was taken care of with TLC. The Monastery was a moment in time I was glad to have been at....
Posted by Marshall B on January 15, 2010 at 7:10 PM · Report this
Where there is that much smoke, there is going to be fire. Why couch it in terms of being a church? If a 70 year old man wants to have a gay night club for young boys, then call it that. The church thing just makes it that much more "oogie".
Posted by Melvin on July 7, 2010 at 8:31 PM · Report this
I remember one night George throwing open the doors of the tower of the monestery, pointing at the skyline and asking me why a big city like seattle is so small potatoes about liquor laws and drinking hours. i havent seen him in decades but remember him well.
I think george has a better sense than you know (heart)
Posted by biggodhead on July 30, 2010 at 10:00 PM · Report this
5 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
This was and is nothing more than an attack on someone and a form of religion practice. The attack on the ULC church is nothing more than people not under standing religion or right to practice that religion by the Constitution of the Greatest Country
Posted by Archbishop Dan on September 14, 2010 at 12:06 PM · Report this
UniversalLifeChurch 7
I concur George Freeman (Brother Martin) may have been one heck of a bar owner, an entertainer. It sure sounds like he knew how to party. Perhaps George Freeman didn't sell drugs from the pulpit, maybe he didn't serve alcohol to underage kids, perhaps he never did ascertain a liquor license? Yet I have an ordained Minister from Seattle, now living elsewhere whose mother used to go to The Monastery. Her mother got strung out on drugs and alcohol and perhaps she didn't OD at the Monastery as George claims. Instead she committed suicide.

George maybe a nice guy, but a bar is not a place to use a house of worship or a Church as a disguise for partying.

Freeman has left a black mark against the Universal Life Church name and the LGBT Community. I don't dislike George Freeman (Brother Martin) I just wish he utilized better discretion.

He did not need to bring such negativity upon the Universal Life Church, or the LGBT Community that has its hands full just fighting for equal rights the way it is. It is people like George Freeman who prevents those within the LGBT community of gaining respect with behavior and poor decisions such as George Freeman exhibits.

The Universal Life Church or the LGBT Community does not necessarily condone such behavior, that went on at this monastery, but have been forever blemished. That is unfair.

Posted by UniversalLifeChurch on February 20, 2011 at 1:20 AM · Report this
UniversalLifeChurch 8
I want to reiterate, the Universal Life Church stands behind the LGBT Community, we believe in equal rights and we will continue the fight in an appropriate fashion. I hope that those reading this article will not take the actions of one individual and hold it against the LGBT Community.
Posted by UniversalLifeChurch on February 20, 2011 at 2:22 AM · Report this

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