Karen Pressley of Atlanta and her then-husband Peter Schless – a musician and composer who wrote the hit song On the Wings of Love – became Scientologists and later joined staff. Pressley mostly worked for the church’s international organization in Los Angeles, but she spent six months in Clearwater. She said she designed the new uniforms still worn by staffers today.
Pressley left Scientology in 1998 and refused to come back for sec checks. She has publicly denounced “substandard” child care at church facilities around the world and criticized the church for the “condition of poverty” that staffers lived in. After she left the church, her husband “faithfully applied the rule (of disconnection),” she said.
She calls the suppressive person declare “a form of psychological terrorism. It obliterates families. … People who leave are afraid to talk about Scientology.”
In a letter to the Times, Peter Schless – who works for the church’s Golden Era Productions – states that Pressley was unfaithful in their marriage, and that she came to resent his success. He said she walked out on him in 1998, took his BMW car, left him with $17,000 in credit card debt and “insisted on taking half (his) income.” If someone did that to you, he wrote, “you probably wouldn’t be too interested in speaking to your ex-wife either – and it would have nothing to do with whether you were a Christian, Buddhist, Jew or Scientologist.”
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Tom Smith, 49, of Clearwater, was declared an SP in August 2005 after he repeatedly challenged the validity of a “patter drill” in which he was instructed to read passages of a course to a wall. Smith insisted the drill was not based on Hubbard teachings.
A year and a half earlier, Smith attended a charter review committee meeting to express his opposition to the county plan to fluoridate the drinking water. Smith followed committee chairman Ed Armstrong to the parking lot and aggressively argued the issue should be put to voters.
Soon after, Smith was summoned to the Fort Harrison Hotel, the locus of Scientology operations. A church ethics officer confronted him with a report, written by Ben Shaw, criticizing Smith for being rude to Armstrong. It noted that Armstrong is an attorney for the church.
“You are going to be declared,” Smith says the ethics officer warned him. The message was clear, to Smith: Back off.
Shaw said he wrote the report, but said it’s ridiculous for Smith to contend he was threatened with a suppressive person declare over it.
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Grace Aaron of Los Angeles was declared a suppressive person five years ago after she wrote several internal reports insisting that current church management had altered some of L. Ron Hubbard’s directives. She said church officials tried to convince her husband of 28 years to divorce her and said he had to make a choice: his wife or his religion. He stayed with her and was declared a couple of months later.
Their son, Zachary, then 22, was on staff at the Beverly Hills mission and living with his parents. She said the church also gave him an ultimatum: move out within 24 hours and sever all ties with his parents or he would be kicked out of Scientology himself. He went with Scientology.
“I don’t think that any religion has a right to disrupt a family,” she said. “It may not be illegal. But when it comes to human rights and morality, I consider it immoral.”
In a letter to the Times, Zachary Aaron wrote that he has no interest in speaking to his mother.
“Her actions were calculated to attack the Church, she knew exactly what she was doing, she was told multiple times exactly what would happen and she refused everybody’s efforts to help her sort things out.
“So very simply, I’ve refused to speak to her until she becomes a member of the Church again. And she could do this very easily! … All she has to do is apologize and make up for any damage that she’s done. That’s all! But she won’t do it.”
Aaron took her story to local cable TV two years ago and put out an appeal to Zachary: “Daddy and I really love you,” she said. ” … We want to share in your life to some extent. We don’t want to control you or to force our realities on you. We just want to see what you’re doing.”
June 25, 2006
Robert Farley, Times Staff Writer