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Scientology: Controversial Issues

This section examines the controversial issues involving Scientology. For a further examination of Scientology, see the main Wikipedia article on Scientology.

Table of contents
1 Scientology dealing with critics and perceived enemies
2 Allegations of criminal behavior
3 Allegations of mistreatment of members
4 L. Ron Hubbard and starting a religion for money
5 Related topics

Scientology dealing with critics and perceived enemies

The Church of Scientology has a history of dealing forcefully with critics (which the organization calls "suppressive persons").

Unlike most other religious organizations, the Church of Scientology maintains strict control over the use of its symbols, icons, texts, and names. It claims copyright and trademark over its "Scientology cross," and its lawyers have threatened and conducted lawsuits against individuals and organizations who have published the image in books and on Web sites or quoted short paragraphs of Scientology texts in an article or Web site.

Because of this, it is very difficult for individual groups to attempt to publicly practice Scientology on their own, without any affiliation or connection to the "official" Church of Scientology. Scientology has sued a number of individuals who attempted to set up their own auditing practices, using copyright and trademark law to shut these groups down.

Scientology has engaged in similar tactics against critics and vocal opponents who have claimed the organization is a money-making one that engages in criminal behavior. Scientology has proclaimed it is "not a turn-the-other-cheek religion," and the organization is known for its hostile actions towards anyone that criticises it in a public forum. Writers, journalists, politicians, activists, and various anti-cult groups have made numerous accusations against Scientology since the 1970s, and almost without exception these groups have been targeted for retaliation by Scientology. The organization's actions are documented in a policy instituted by L. Ron Hubbard of dealing with criticism called "attack the attacker," which the church continues to follow today. Hubbard outlined his rules for attacking critics in a number of policy letters, including one often quoted by critics as "the Fair Game policy." (Scientology is quick to point out that Hubbard cancelled the use of the term "Fair Game" in 1968, though the organization's tactics and methods for attacking its critics have remained largely unchanged since then.)

The Church of Scientology has made a name for itself as being one of the most litigious entities in existence. It has made extensive use of copyright and trademark law, the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the legal system to silence its critics. It has spent huge sums on lawsuits (and threats of lawsuits) filed against individuals, newspapers, magazines, television studios, internet service providers, internet search engines, internet archives, government agencies and others.

In the last decade, it has particularly concentrated on dealing with various critics using the Internet as a forum. The Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains an archive of documents related to the church's efforts to interfere with online critics.

The organization replies that this is the only way the church has been able to survive in a sometimes-hostile environment. In an earlier era, for example, Mormons took up arms and organized militia to defend themselves from those hostile to their faith. Scientology, it would seem, has taken up the civil lawsuit in place of weaponry.

The church of Scientology has been known to conduct covert black bag operations against opponents.

Allegations of criminal behavior

In the mid-1970s, in the midst of a dispute over its claim to tax-exempt status, a member of the Church of Scientology was caught stealing documents on Scientology from IRS intelligence files.

Following this episode, offices of the church in Los Angeles, California and Washington, D.C were searched by FBI agents and documents confiscated. Eleven church staff, including Mary Sue Hubbard (L. Ron Hubbard's wife and second in command in the organization) and other highly placed officials, pleaded guilty or were convicted in federal court based on evidence seized in the raids, and received sentences from two to six years (some suspended).

There is disagreement over how much official church approval the illegal activities had. The Church of Scientology claims that a "rogue" branch of the church was closed on the heels of the event, gutted of its staff, and dozens of personnel expelled or subjected to lesser sanctions and that it has since been reorganized so that no branch enjoys similar autonomy to the former "rogues". Others believe that the reorganization was simply an internal coup by one church faction to eliminate the power of a rival faction. Former members allege that illegal operations were conducted after the arrests and are ongoing, a charge that is vigorously denied by the church.

Other noteworthy incidents involving criminal accusations against the Church of Scientology include:

Scientology's replies to its critics

Scientology's response to accusations of criminal behavior has been twofold. On one hand, the Church of Scientology has repeatedly stated that it is engaged in an ongoing battle against a massive, worldwide conspiracy whose sole purpose is to "destroy the Scientology religion." This conspiracy, the church claims, is organized by psychiatrists, deprogrammers, and certain government bodies including the FBI and the government of Germany. It has allegedly attacked Scientology since the earliest days of the church, though Scientology claims that it continues to expand and prosper despite these efforts to prevent it from growing.

On the other hand, L. Ron Hubbard proclaimed that the only reason anyone would attack Scientology is because that person or entity is a "criminal." Hubbard wrote on numerous occasions that all of Scientology's opponents are seeking to hide their own criminal histories, and the proper course of action to stop these attacks is to "expose" the hidden crimes of the attackers. The Church of Scientology does not deny that it vigorously seeks to "expose" its critics and enemies; it maintains that all of its critics have criminal histories, and they encourage hatred and "bigotry" against Scientology.

Various Web sites have conducted exhaustive analyses of Scientology's accusations and actions against its critics. In order to remain impartial and maintain a neutral point of view regarding the controversy over Scientology, Wikipedia recommends that readers who want a detailed examination of this issue follow these external links to sites dedicated to both sides of the conflict:

Those Who Oppose Scientology (Scientology's response to its critics)

Allegations of mistreatment of members

Lisa McPherson

The Church of Scientology has been accused of being responsible for the death of several of its members, the best known case of which is that of Lisa McPherson. A woman of 36, Lisa entered the Fort Harrison Hotel, Clearwater, a Scientology stronghold, in 1995, physically healthy. She was dead seventeen days later of a blood clot brought on by severe dehydration and bed rest. Medical examiners said she had gone without fluids for seven to ten days, probably longer, and had been comatose for as long as a day before she died. But Medical Examiner Dr. Joan Wood has amended her autopsy report after years in a highly unusual move. In her original report she listed Lisa's death as "Undetermined" - her amended report of 16 February 2000, as "Accident". Wood also removed one cause of death ("bed rest and severe dehydration") and added a new significant condition ("psychosis and history of auto accident").

The Church did not see fit to take her to the hospital, even as she began to urinate and defecate on herself after the first week of solitary confinement and held conversations with imaginary people. The Clearwater police files on Lisa McPherson These actions resulted in criminal charges being filed against the Church of Scientology by Florida authorities.

The Church of Scientology, in typical fashion, fought tooth and nail the various legal actions brought against them as regards the death. In the end, the prosecuting attorneys in the criminal case were forced to drop their charges, and the case was dismissed. A $100 million civil lawsuit filed by Lisa McPherson's family is still pending against the Church of Scientology as of 2003.


The Church of Scientology is frequently accused by critics of employing brainwashing and intimidation tactics to influence members to donate large amounts of money in standard cult practices, and to submit completely to the organization. One alleged example is the Rehabilitation Project Force, to which members are assigned to work off alleged wrongdoings. Another is the Sea Organization (Sea Org), a high-intensity Scientology org partly operated aboard a ship.

Scholars have written works both forwarding and rebutting allegations of brainwashing in the RPF and Sea Org. One critical work is Stephen Kent's Brainwashing in Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF). Responses to allegations include Juha Pentikäinen's The Church of Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force and J. Gordon Melton's A Contemporary Ordered Religious Community: The Sea Organization. Discussions of "brainwashing" or inappropriate domination of members have pervaded many other works critical of Scientology, as well as court cases against the church.

While the word brainwashing is used mainly as a pejorative buzz-word and very poorly defined in any case, the undisputed fact of the matter is that Scientology teaches that one's salvation depends on auditing, a service which is offered for a fee by the Church of Scientology.


The Church of Scientology practices disconnection, the severing of ties between members and friends or family who criticize the faith. This has torn apart many families. Open letter: A family torn apart by Scientology

The Church of Scientology in no way disputes the fact that its members are strongly discouraged from associating with enemies of Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard and starting a religion for money

While the often-seen rumor that Hubbard made a bar bet with Robert Heinlein that he could start a cult is almost certainly false, others have claimed direct knowledge that during 1949 Hubbard did make statements to other people that starting a religion would be a good way to make money. [1]

Writer and publisher Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, for example, reported Hubbard saying "I'd like to start a religion. That's where the money is." Writer Theodore Sturgeon reported that Hubbard made a similar statement at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. The Church of Scientology denies these claims, and has in fact sued publishers for making them. Members hold that the truth or falsity of such claims is irrelevant in judging whether the church meets their spiritual needs.

The following letter, written by L. Ron Hubbard, was discovered by the FBI during its raid on Scientology headquarters. The letter shows Hubbard turned Scientology into a "religion" for financial reasons:





The arrangements that have been made seem a good temporary measure. On a longer look, however, something more equitable will have to be organized. I am not quite sure what we would call the place - probably not a clinic - but I am sure that it ought to be a company, independent of the HAS but fed by the HAS. We don't want a clinic. We want one in operation but not in name. Perhaps we could call it a Spiritual Guidance Center. Think up its name, will you. And we could put in nice desks and our boys in neat blue with diplomas on the walls and 1. knock psychotherapy into history and 2. make enough money to shine up my operating scope and 3. keep the HAS solvent. It is a problem of practical business. I await your reaction on the religion angle. In my opinion, we couldn't get worse public opinion than we have had or have less customers with what we've got to sell. A religious charter would be necessary in Pennsylvania or NJ to make it stick. But I sure could make it stick. We're treating the present time beingness, psychotherapy treats the past and the brain. And brother, that's religion, not mental science.

Best Regards,


An article of Prof. Benjamin Beit-Hallami documents the secular aspects of Scientology from Scientology's own writings. Marburg Journal of Religion - Scientology: Religion or Racket?

Related topics