Scientology faces major lawsuit in US
As a Californian couple begin legal proceedings over its alleged misappropriation of charitable donations, these truly are troubled times for the Church of Scientology
I feel like I've been declaring the onset of troubled times for Scientology for years now. In fact, you can trace it in my writing for New Humanist – here I am in 2008, reporting on the rise of Anonymous and the threat to the Church's intimidation-imposed Omertà (it's amazing to think Anonymous was once defined by its opposition to Scientology), and this is me in 2010, interviewing high-profile dissenter Marc Headley and suggesting that 2009 was a particularly grim year for the sect.
So, having called the arrival of a dark period for the religion of L Ron Hubbard on a number occasions, it seems a little odd to frame this post around the observation that 2013 might just be the worst year yet for the Church's hierarchy. But that's what I'm going to do, because it's only 24 January, and already things are not stacking up well. At all.
In this month alone we've seen the publication of two devastating critiques of the Church. The most high-profile of those, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, was pulled from UK publication at the turn of the year (the erstwhile publishers say this was because the book, currently selling handsomely in the US, "doesn't fit in with our schedule"), but the other, The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology by John Sweeney (the British journalist who famously lost his rag at a Church enforcer's attempts to hinder his filming of a Panorama documentary), is out now and available to buy (look out for our review in the next issue of New Humanist).
Such books play a major role in breaking down the wall of propaganda that surrounds Scientology, but their impact may have nothing on the news that broke yesterday, concerning the fact that a Californian couple are suing the Church over alleged fraudulent use of donations.
Former high-ranking members Luis and Maria Garcia, who left in 2010, say they donated more than $420,000 to fund the Church construction projects and its disaster-relief work, but allege that the money was primarily used to fund the lifestyle of Scientology's leader David Miscavige. The complaint, filed in Tampa, Florida, says:
"The Church, under the leadership of David Miscavige, has strayed from its founding principles and morphed into a secular enterprise whose primary purpose is taking people's money."
The Church of Scientology denies the allegations, with a spokesperson saying:
"We understand from media inquiries this has something to do with fundraising and we can unequivocally state all funds solicited are used for the charitable and religious purposes for which they were donated."
It will be fascinating to see how the legal proceedings unfold, but the indication from those versed in the goings on around Scientology is that this 35-page lawsuit, filed with the help of two top veteran attorneys, could be extremely bad news for the Church. Indeed, Tony Ortega, one of the most experienced Scientology-watchers of all, describes it as "the most serious legal challenge to Scientology in several years", and writes that the Church is currently "in the grips of crisis".
Famously, Scientology requires its workers to sign billion-year contracts of employment but, at its current rate of decline, what odds that staff will even need to honour them beyond the end of this decade?