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Keith Henson

Howard Keith Henson is famous in the science and science fiction communities as a writer on life extension and cryonics, memetics and, most recently, as an activist against the Church of Scientology. Henson is a founding member of the L5 Society and a life member of the National Space Society.

Henson versus Scientology

Henson has become of the most bizarre focal points of the ongoing struggle between the Church of Scientology and its critics, often referred to as Scientology vs. the Internet. Henson is a critic of Scientology whose actions resulted in his being convicted under an obscure California law regarding the act of "interfering with a religion." Henson is currently residing in Canada, seeking political asylum based on his belief that his life would be threatened by Scientology if he returned to the United States to serve his sentence. The Church, on the other hand, has repeatedly declared that Henson is a criminal, a terrorist, and a fugitive from justice.

Henson entered the Scientology battle when it was at its most heated, in the mid-1990s. In 1996, the most secret of Scientology's "secret writings" (see Scientology beliefs and practices) were released onto the Internet, and Scientology embarked on a massive worldwide campaign to keep them from being spread to the four corners of the earth. Henson examined these writings, entitled New Era Dianetics (known as NOTS in Scientology, and to the organization's critics), and from his examination of these "secret" documents, he claimed that Scientology was committing medical fraud.

The NOTS documents, he said, contained detailed instructions for the treatment of physical ailments and illnesses through the use of Scientology practices. However, a Supreme Court decision in 1971 had declared that Scientology's writings were meant for "purely spiritual" purposes, and all Scientology books published since then have included disclaimers stating that Scientology's E-meter device "does nothing" and does not cure any physical ailments. The NOTS procedures, Henson claimed, were a violation of this decision. To prove his claim, Henson posted two pages from the NOTS documents onto the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

The Church of Scientology immediately threatened to sue Henson, but he did not back down from his claims. Immediately afterwards, Henson was served with a lawsuit by the Church's legal arm, the Religious Technology Center (RTC). Henson defended himself in order to avoid the massive legal costs incurred in a Scientology lawsuit (see Scientology and the Legal System). After a lengthy court battle involving massive amounts of paperwork, Henson was found guilty of copyright infringement. He was ordered to pay $75,000 in fines, an amount trumpeted by the Church as the largest copyright damages award ever levied against an individual. (Critics of Scientology estimate that the organization spent a total of about $2 million in litigation against Henson.)

Henson declared bankruptcy in response to the judgement, though the Church dogged him through every step of the filing process. Henson began protesting Scientology regularly, standing outside of Scientology's film studio ("Gold Base:" see Church of Scientology) with a picket sign. The organization sought assistance from the authorities, and finally Henson was arrested and brought on trial for criminal charges.

The jury verdict of the trial resulted in Henson being convicted of one of the three charges: "interfering with a religion." This charge carried a prison term of six months.

Henson, who had been pursued relentlessly by the Church since the original lawsuit over three years previous, stated his belief that if he went to prison, his life would be placed in jeopardy. Rather than serve his sentence, Henson chose to emigrate to Canada and apply for political asylum.

Henson's supporters on alt.religion.scientology made repeated charges that his trial was biased, unfair and a mockery of justice.

Shortly after his arrival in Canada, Henson was arrested by Canadian authorities in an unusual fashion: at a public shopping mall, a squadron of armed officers surrounded him and arrested him at gunpoint. Henson was unarmed when this occurred, and he is not known to have ever carried a firearm. The police later admitted that they had received "a tip" from the Toronto branch of Scientology that a "dangerous fugitive" was wanted in the United States. Following this incident, the Canadian police released Henson and apologized for the incident.

Henson is currently residing in Canada, where his application for asylum is still under review.

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