Scientology to Stand Trial?

Some welcome news out of Brussels:

A Belgian prosecutor on Tuesday recommended that the U.S.-based Church of Scientology stand trial for fraud and extortion, following a 10-year investigation that concluded the group should be labeled a criminal organization.

Although I take a dim view of the principle, held by many European countries, that speech and belief can be censored in the name of promoting societal harmony, this is one instance where the United States’ more expansive view of religious freedom has led to the wrong conclusion. The U.S. decision to officially recognize Scientology as a religion and grant it tax-exempt status was the wrong one, and should be reversed. (Granted, I believe that all churches should be taxed, but if we’re going to start repairing that error, there’s no better place to start than with Scientology.)

Scientology is well-known for being a litigious cult with a history of trying to silence its critics. It’s also been tied to criminal activities in the past, including a well-known case from the 1970s in which eleven highly-ranked Scientologists, including L. Ron Hubbard’s wife, pled guilty or were convicted of charges that included attempts to wiretap and burglarize U.S. government offices. Scientology is also widely known for having perhaps the most ludicrous backstory of any current faith, including the belief that an alien space overlord named Xenu attempted to solve a galactic overpopulation problem by bringing billions of alien beings to Earth to kill them, and that the ghosts of these dead aliens (called “thetans”) cling invisibly to human beings and cause every physical or mental problem which people suffer from. Lay Scientologists are not told this story until they have donated a considerable sum of money to the church.

Ridiculous beliefs are one thing, but Scientology’s aggressive, hostile attitude toward its detractors is what has earned it the most notoriety. L. Ron Hubbard famously declared that the church’s critics were “fair game” who could be “deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” The most prominent victim of this policy was Paulette Cooper, who wrote an anti-Scientology book (The Scandal of Scientology) to which the church responded by, among other things, trying to frame her for bomb threats.

The church claims it discontinued the “fair game” policy in 1968, though as recently as 1999, it agreed to pay libel damages for publishing a pamphlet attacking a former member as a “hate campaigner”. The new recommendations by Belgian prosecutor Jean-Claude Van Espen cast further doubt on that claim, since they include allegations of “intimidation and extortion” against ex-members.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that these allegations, even if they lead to charges being filed, will be aired in court for some time. But as far as I’m concerned, the sooner that day comes, the better. All of society will benefit if this pernicious sect is exposed for what it is:

The German government considers Scientology a commercial enterprise that takes advantage of vulnerable people.

…and if these charges lead the U.S. government to reconsider Scientology’s tax-exempt status, so much the better.

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Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Ric

    Scientology has a backstory? Do you play RPG games? Hehe. :)

  • Ric

    Scientology has a backstory? Do you play RPG games? Hehe. :)

  • valhar2000

    I wish they would do that here in Spain. Those guys own an entire block in one of Madrid’s most expensive areas. Let that money be put to good use, I say.

  • valhar2000

    I wish they would do that here in Spain. Those guys own an entire block in one of Madrid’s most expensive areas. Let that money be put to good use, I say.

  • tobe38

    The way Scientology attacks its critics is truly scary. Back in May I wrote about the BBC Panorama Documentary Scientology and Me, where the journalist John Sweeney was harassed and spied upon.

  • Louis Doench

    “Scientology has a backstory? Do you play RPG games? Hehe. :)”

    I’m with you! Wouldn’t the Xenu storyline make for a cool RPG! You could set up rules to access the vast powers and knowledge of the deceased thetans your character carried around. I’m writing Wizards of the Coast as we speak!

  • Brock

    One of the freaky things about Scientology is how many high profile actors belong to the cult. Does acting correlate with susceptibility to this sort of thing?

    I once tried to work out a RPG based on the world of Jack Chick. I couldn’t make it work because the Christian characters are too powerful. Even if I make them the villains, I can’t come up with anything. Any ideas, gamers?

  • evanescent

    I agree, scientology’s myths are the stuff of (really) bad science fiction. I agree with Ebonmuse that whereas all religious beliefs are pretty silly and none should be tax exempt, there’s no better place to start than this idiotic cult.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    What’s really funny is the birth of Scientology. It’s my understanding that Hubbard and another man were on Hub’s sailboat off Catalina in 1947, drunk late into the night and deep into what was apparently one hell of a bull session. They got into an argument abobut religion and in the course of it Hubbard said any idiot could start a religion. He was promptly challenged by his friend with a $100 bet, which he accepted.

    This story may be apocryphal, but what the hell, I wouldn’t put it past the cynical bastard.

  • Chris Hallquist

    Um, are you really sure that Scientology’s backstory is sillier than the idea that all human problems can be traced back to a woman made from a man’s rib, a talking snake, and a piece of fruit?

  • Yoyo

    all religion stories are utterly stupid but a) scientolgy doesnt have the excuse of bronze age understanding of natural phenomena and b) scientology has a dreadful recent history of vengance on those that leave the fold or criticise their practices. Much like the extreme muslim attitude to apostates now that I think about it! tax them til they bleed out the ears i say.

  • Asymmeter

    wow, this is great progress, finally the prospect of some real action against these jokers! a great thing to see before i turn in for the night.

    and scientology would make a terrific basis for an rpg… you could have a thetan with +3 litigiousness! special bonus against critical inquirers level 4 or lower!

  • Alex Weaver

    On the RPG references, it’s worth noting that something similar was actually done in Fallout 2, in the form of “Hubology.”

  • Billf

    Personally, I like the fact that Scientology is considered a valid religion by the Federal Government. It allows us to tell Christians that as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, there is just as much validity to worshiping Xenu as there is to worshiping Jesus.

  • vjack

    Fraud and extortion? From a religious organization? Just think of the precedent! First Scientology and then all other forms of religiously-inspired delusion.

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    The fact that 40-80% of humanity believes in this assorted depraved nonsense makes one wonder if the H. “sapiens” entity is worth saving from itself by taxation, exposure or lawsuits. If we had 50,000+ years worth of time for further evolution, we might work our way out of it. But now, with atomic weaponed lunatics on too many horizons, and few signs of any significant decline in arrant superstition, I hold out little prospect.