Founded in 1954, the Church of Scientology has more than 5,100 churches, missions and groups worldwide. Founder L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health- a textbook of sorts for Scientology – died in 1986. The religion’s highest-ranking figure is now David Miscavige, whose official title is chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted at What judges have to say about Scientology
A turning point
After years of battling for tax-exempt status, the church was granted the exemption in 1993 by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, giving it legitimacy as a religious organization. However, some other nations do not recognize Scientology as a religion.
In the mid-’70s, the church, using a nondescript business name, purchased the Fort Harrison Hotel and Bank of Clearwater building. Since that time, the church has purchased much more property downtown, and is building the $50-million Flag building, across the street from the Fort Harrison Hotel, Clearwater is now the church’s international “spiritual headquarters.” More than 8,200 Scientologists now live in the Clearwater area.
Scientology centers on the “Thetan,” which is like a spirit or immortal soul that passes from life to life with birth and death. Members strive to become “Operating Thetans,” which allows them to separate their “spiritual beingness” from the “physical universe,” enabling them to “control matter, energy, space and time rather than being controlled by these things.” But you don’t start out as an OT. Newcomers to Scientology are called “preclears.” Their personal potential is held back by painful memories and experiences, known as “engrams,” which they must eradicate through a process known as “auditing.” During auditing sessions, one’s mental state is repeatedly measured with an “E-meter,” an electronic device that is said to identify potential engrams and shape the direction of personal counseling sessions. Over time, preclears become Clears, and Clears become OTs.
Troubling past, numerous critics
Why do some people get riled up about Scientology? For one, auditing sessions cost money. A lot of money. Tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many skeptics wonder: Is Scientology a legitimate religious organization or an expensive psychotherapy business? (Scientologists, for what it’s worth, do not believe in psychiatry.) Over the past three decades, the church has had many well-publicized run-ins with the government.
* In 1977, FBI agents seized thousands of church documents which offered details of a plan to “take control” of Clearwater and discredit church opponents, including political figures, law enforcement authorities and members of the media. The seizures resulted in such charges as theft of government documents and conspiracy to obstruct justice; several high-ranking church officials, including L. Ron Hubbard’s wife, were convicted.
* Over the next two decades, the church waged a legal war with local and federal governments over its tax-exempt status, which was granted in 1993. During this time, police gathered data on the church, and the church, through private investigators, gathered data on its enemies.
A death in the church
Just last year, the church quietly settled a wrongful-death lawsuit in the case of Lisa McPherson, an apparently healthy 36-year-old church member who died in 1995 after 17 mysterious days in the church’s care. During the criminal investigations, the church responded by suing the medical examiner and calling her a “hateful liar” for finding that McPherson went without fluids for five to 10 days; videotaping a sidewalk protester in what a judge called a game of “picket chicken;” and hiring private investigators to follow and videotape a former church member who was scheduled to testify.
– Taken from the Church of Scientology and Times files.
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