LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The veil of secrecy that shrouds the initiation rites of Shriners has been lifted as the result of a Lexington man's lawsuit against Oleika Shrine Temple.
The opening of the trial was shown live yesterday by local cable television, enabling people to sit home and learn all about what Shriners call their "hot sands session."
Michael G. Vaughan, 44, a brick mason and would-be Shriner, told jurors of being blindfolded and having a jolt of electricity applied to his bare buttocks as part of the initiation rites in June 1989 at the temple. He also told of having to walk on an electrified mat that was supposed to simulate the hot sands of the Sahara, of being knocked unconscious and suffering other injuries during the initiation.
Vaughan claims he was was humiliated and embarrassed by the ordeal. The humiliation, he said, causes him to suffer anxiety, a sleep disorder and nightmares.
He is seeking an unspecified amount for medical bills, lost income and punitive damages.
Attorneys for the shrine and six of its members say that Vaughn was not injured and that he filed the suit out of greed.
The defense attorneys said they would bring in witnesses who say the ritual was not painful, but fun.
By the time a jury was seated yesterday there was time for but one witness to take the stand -- Vaughan.
On direct examination by his own attorney, John Hamilton, Vaughan described three electrical shocks he received during the induction ceremony. The first -- the one to his buttocks -- was the most painful, he said. Vaughan said he was led blindfolded into a room where the blindfold was lifted long enough to let him see a red hot branding iron bearing a shrine emblem.
Vaughan was then told to lay on a table and pull down his boxer shorts. That's when he was given an jolt with a stick wired to a 12-volt motorcycle battery. He was not branded with the hot iron.
He said the pain was so great it lifted him off the table.
"It lifts you off the table a foot or two," he told the jury.
He also told of being shocked while sitting on a metal bench and while standing on the electrified mat.
"At any time, did you feel like you could walk away and quit and still be accepted for membership?" Hamilton asked.
"No, you were intimidated to the point to where it never entered your mind that you could get out of this place. It was a very fearful situation," Vaughan replied.