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Free Speech & Copyright Infringement on the Information Super-Highway

By Jim Lippard and Jeff Jacobsen

The power to control the dissemination of information is the power to influence the beliefs and actions of human beings. Nothing has transformed civilization in such dramatic and unforeseen ways as the development of information technology which affects that power. The printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, and television have altered societies by increasing the speed of communication, the quantity of information that can be communicated, and the potential number of recipients of any message. As each new technology becomes cheaper to use, the ability of individuals to create and spread their own messages is enhanced, and control over the flow of knowledge becomes decentralized. Institutions and individuals that require the ability to control information to retain power have found themselves ousted as technologies have undermined that ability.

The Internet, a global network of interlinked computers, has given individuals the power to obtain information on virtually any subject from all over the world. It has also put into their hands the ability to communicate any message, almost instantly and at extremely low cost, to a potential audience of millions. Further, the technology exists and is used today to allow these communications to be anonymous or private and readable only by the intended recipients. The possible consequences of the technology of computer networking that worry many people. Anonymous and private communication can be used by terrorists, drug smugglers, and child pornographers, which the U.S. government offers as argument in attempting to justify restrictions on the use and export of encryption technology. Businesses that exist by controlling the distribution of music, film, and books rightly fear obsolescence as individuals are able to transmit these works to each other directly in digital form. Many organizations may rightly fear having their innermost secrets broadcast over the Internet.

Falling into the last category is the Church of Scientology (COS), which has seen texts of secret Scientology teachings, affidavits and declarations from court cases, and even entire books by Scientology critics, made publicly (and anonymously) available on both the Internet and the Usenet, a collection of thousands of public discussion forums known as newsgroups. Rather than answering the criticism, Scientologists have responded in their standard manner-by attacking their critics with confrontation and litigation. This article is a summary of recent events in what began as the battle between Scientology and its critics and, because of these tactics, is now the battle between Scientology and the Internet.

The alt.religion.scientology Newsgroup

The main forum for discussion of Scientology on the Internet is a Usenet newsgroup known as alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s). This newsgroup was created on July 17, 1991, with a forged "newgroup" message from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory posted under the name of "David Miscaviage" (the misspelled name of the head of the COS). In early 1992, three additional (non-forged) newgroup messages for the group were posted from the Lockheed Corporation, New York University, and the University of Maine in an attempt to increase the propagation of the newsgroup throughout the Usenet. At first, the newsgroup was mainly a forum used by members of the "Free Zone" (a group founded by ex-Scientologists to promote L. Ron Hubbard's ideas independent of the COS). As time went on, however, critics of both Scientology's doctrines and techniques ("tech") as well as the organization itself came to dominate the discussion on a.r.s, and the Free Zoners formed a separate

Although there were the usual Usenet "flame wars" on a.r.s. between Scientologists, Free Zoners, and critics, there was apparently no coordinated action taken by the COS against its electronic critics until 1994. In the summer of 1994, a disgruntled Scientologist forwarded a copy of an electronic memo to an a.r.s critic. Elaine Siegel of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs (OSA) had apparently sent the memo to several Scientologists on the Internet and America Online as a plan to handle electronic criticism of Scientology. The memo was promptly reposted to a.r.s. It read:"As you know, there has been quite a bit of false and derogatory information going out over the Internet by a few detractors, squirrels relapsed Scientologists, etc....We have a plan of action that we are taking, to simply outcreate the entheta on these newsgroups (alt.religion.scientology and" Ms. Siegel went on to explain that critics should not be engaged in debate, but 40 to 50 Scientologists should post pro-Scientology materials every few days so that "we'll just run the SP's (suppressive persons) right off the system. It will be quite simple, actually."

On September 14, an anonymous poster claiming to be a concerned Scientologist also posted a plan to handle the Internet critics, allegedly originating from the COS and filled with citations to Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letters (HCOPLs), which are organizational and administrative policies authored by L. Ron Hubbard. This plan was more elaborate, with individuals assigned to Legal, Security, Success Posting, and even Humor assignments. The goal was to have "no less than 50 posts per day for the next month."

If these posts were genuine, it was clear that the church had begun to take great interest in the a.r.s newsgroup. But while some signs began to surface that some of these plans were being put in operation, nothing particularly out of the ordinary occurred on a.r.s until November 10, 1994, when Washington Post, which reported them on December 25, 1994, as did the Associated Press on January 3, 1995.

The "Cancelpoodle" Arrives

Scientology teachings are sharply divided into two sections. First, a member attains the state of "clear" by practicing the publicly available psychological counseling techniques of Dianetics. This supposedly involves the elimination of the "reactive mind," which is responsible for all automatic, stimulus-response behavior. After one becomes "clear," however, the next levels of training are secret and their content is jealously guarded from the uninitiated. Of these Operating Thetan (OT) levels, numbering I-VIII, only OTIII had been publicly exposed after a court case included the teachings of this level in court exhibits. On December 24, however, someone using an anonymous remailer in the Netherlands posted OTI, OTII, and "New OT" (NOTs) issues 34, 35, and 36 to a.r.s. These documents included such things as a description of how "Teegeeack" (Earth) came to be populated 75 million years ago by "thetans" (souls) when the evil ruler Xenu of the Galactic Federation cast them into Hawaiian volcanos and blew them up with a hydrogen bomb to solve his local overpopulation problems. Former Scientologist Dennis Erlich, a regular contributor to the a.r.s newsgroup since August 1994, posted articles commenting on some of the material and pronounced it genuine. Suddenly the material Scientology reveals only after the investment of considerable time and money was accessible to a potential audience of 30 million Internet users.

On December 27, the COS contacted the Netherlands remailer operator, who promptly announced to a.r.s that he had disabled the anonymous account of the user responsible. On the same day, an event took place which focused the attention of free speech activists on a.r.s. A person using the name "Harry Jones" issued a cancellation for an article posted by Dennis Erlich commenting on the OT materials. The cancellation, issued from an account with Netcom, a San Jose-based national Internet service provider, was easily traceable to its origin but was soon followed by more sophisticated cancellation messages. These later messages were all directed at postings by Scientology critics, but now were done in such a way that they could not easily be traced to the account which originated them. The unknown person responsible for these cancellations was dubbed the "Cancelpoodle," a variant on the name of the "Cancelmoose." (The Cancelmoose, an anonymous individual who cancels indiscriminate mass postings of articles known as "spam," is generally accepted by the Usenet community. This is because the Cancelmoose does not cancel articles on the basis of content, but only removes articles which are widely duplicated and waste disk space and the time of Usenet readers. He also makes reports on what is cancelled, including a full copy of the original article, and performs the cancellations in such a way that site administrators can refuse to accept them at their own sites. The Cancelpoodle, by contrast, targets specific content in its decision to cancel.)

Dozens of postings by a.r.s critics have been cancelled by the Cancelpoodle, in many cases with a cancellation message that claims the posting is "CANCELLED BECAUSE OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT." Many of the articles by Scientology critics which have been cancelled, however, contained either no copyrighted material whatsoever or only brief quotations falling within the bounds of "fair use" for commentary and criticism. One of the authors of this article (Jacobsen) saw several of his critical postings which he considered fell well within the bounds of "fair use,"cancelled. One of the earliest articles cancelled by the Cancelpoodle was a "decree of the commencement of oral trial," a court document from Spain dated December 12, 1994, describing criminal proceedings initiated against COS president Heber Jentzch, and leading Spanish Scientologists, for "felonies of illicit association, threats, coercion, usurpation of functions, false accusation, simulation of felony, illegal arrest, crimes against the Tax Administration, crimes against freedom and safety in the workplace, intrusion, crimes against the public health, injuries, damages, abuse, slander and inducement to suicide."

After several weeks of cancellations, Netcom modified its Usenet software to make it easier to trace the origin of bogus cancellation messages. The result was that when Netcom cancelled the accounts of several abusers, cancellations began to surface from accounts at other Internet service providers. A series of cancellations posted from Deltanet, a provider based in Orange County, California were issued from an account obtained by two persons who showed up late one night at the Deltanet office shortly before it closed. They had told Deltanet that they needed immediate access, and paid in cash. The true identity-or identities-of the Cancelpoodle has yet to become public knowledge. The COS denies any knowledge or connection with these activities. Regular participants on a.r.s have responded to the Cancelpoodle by simply reposting whatever is cancelled. One regular even wrote a program which automatically posts a public notice to a.r.s about any articles which are cancelled from the newsgroup. Anonymous posters have also responded by reposting the secret church materials to a wide variety of other newsgroups on the Usenet, a tactic which has been condemned by many Scientology critics for its violation of accepted standards of "netiquette."

Enter the Attorneys

While the Cancelpoodle was deleting specific postings on a.r.s, church attorneys initiated action against the newsgroup itself. On January 3, Thomas Small, an attorney for the Religious Technology Center (RTC, the corporate entity that holds the copyrights and trademarks of Scientology) On January 10, RTC attorney Helena K. Kobrin issued an "rmgroup" (remove group) control message for the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. In the text of the message, Kobrin offered the following justification for the removal of the newsgroup: "(1) it was started with a forged message; (2) it was not discussed on alt.config; (3) it has the name 'scientology' in its title which is a trademark and is misleading, as a.r.s is mainly used for flamers to attack the Scientology religion; (4) it has been and continues to be heavily abused with copyright and trade secret violations and serves no purpose other than condoning these illegal practices." Since most Usenet sites don't automatically honor rmgroup commands and since several prominent Usenetters immediately issued additional "newgroup" control messages for the newsgroup, there was no negative effect on alt.religion.scientology's distribution. In fact, the attempt had the opposite effect, as it attracted the attention of site administrators and free speech activists. Many responded to Kobrin's arguments, pointing out that discussion on alt.config is not a necessity for alt newsgroups; that the forged "newgroup" was followed by non-forged "newgroup" messages; and that it is unacceptable practice to "rmgroup" a newsgroup that is receiving heavy use. Perhaps realizing this tactic to be a mistake, the church has made no further attempts to remove the newsgroup. Instead, it has followed through on its threats of litigation against individual posters mentioned in Thomas Small's notice to the anonymous remailers.

The Dennis Erlich Case

At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of February 13, 1995, a group of people showed up at the home of ex-Scientologist Dennis Erlich with a "writ of seizure." Erlich refused to answer the doorbell and called the police, but the 911 operator informed him that he had to let his morning visitors into his home because they had a warrant. Over the next 7.5 hours, Erlich's personal papers and correspondence, financial records, and computer were examined. Photocopies were made, and over 300 floppy diskettes and two 120 MB tape backups were confiscated. Numerous files were deleted from his computer, leaving it in an inoperable condition. Erlich was also served with papers declaring him the subject of a lawsuit for copyright infringement, also naming Tom Klemesrud, system operator of the L.A. Valley College Bulletin Board System (BBS) which Erlich used, and Netcom, the Internet provider for that BBS, as defendants. Klemesrud and Netcom were named on the grounds that they should have taken action to prevent Erlich's alleged copyright violations from being posted to the Usenet. A temporary restraining order was issued against Erlich, Klemesrud, and Netcom prohibiting the publication of Scientology materials on the net.

As early as August 1994, Erlich had exchanged correspondence with RTC attorney Small about some of his postings to a.r.s. Up until the raid, Erlich had been an active critic of the church on a.r.s, often using information from his own experiences of many years in a high position in the church, posting followup articles to anonymously posted articles containing church scriptures along with his own commentary. Erlich's follow-ups contained quotations from the anonymously posted articles to which he was responding. Small accused Erlich of violating church copyrights by posting these church scriptures without permission. Erlich responded in a September 7, 1994, letter that "I'll be happy to retract but you must first provide me with the materials whose copyrights I supposedly violated." RTC then persuaded Northern California District Judge Ron Whyte to approve the writ of seizure used to raid Erlich's home.

In a posting to a.r.s on February 14, 1995, Helena Kobrin justified the raid on the grounds that "Erlich has repeatedly posted published and unpublished materials on the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup which are subject to copyrights registered with the United States Copyright Office. Attempts by my clients to engage Mr. Erlich in any meaningful dialogue have met with an absolute refusal to communicate-he would not even speak with my clients' representatives." Other Scientologists on the net began a campaign to discredit Erlich, posting allegations that he had abused his wife and children and even killed his pets.

After initial hearings, Klemesrud and Netcom were dropped from the temporary restraining order, and Judge Whyte made it clear that Dennis Erlich still had the right to post to a.r.s and comment on Scientology materials so long as he stays within the bounds of "fair use." After Erlich posted some additional Scientology materials to the net, the church filed a motion to have him declared in contempt of court. The San Francisco law firm of Morrison and Foerster took on Erlich's case, and through their efforts Judge Whyte suspended further motions in the case until a hearing scheduled for June 23, 1995. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has set up a Dennis Erlich Defense Fund to assist Erlich in paying his court costs.

The Penet Raid

Finland is a country known for its respect for independence, individuality, and privacy. It is fitting, then, that the most used and best known anonymous remailer, known as, is in Finland. Johan (Julf) Helsingius' Internet remailer handles an estimated 7,000 postings per day.

On February 2, 1995, Helsingius was contacted by an American representative of the Church of Scientology, informing him that his remailer had been used to publicly post information stolen from a private Scientology computer and requesting the identity of the poster. When Helsingius responded that he could not reveal that information, he was told that Interpol would be making a request to the Finnish police for the information. The next day, Finnish police contacted Helsingius requesting the same information, and informed him that a warrant would be obtained if necessary.

On February 8, Finnish police arrived at Helsingius' home with a warrant entitling them to seize information about all users of his service, but he persuaded them to settle for the identity of the single requested poster. This marked the first time that any public authority has required a remailer to divulge the identity of a user. But what is perhaps more startling (because of their respect for privacy) is that the Finnish police almost immediately gave this information to the Church of Scientology. Helsingius reports that his legal representative received acknowledgment of receipt of the information by Scientology within an hour of divulging it to the authorities.

The Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, reported on February 18 that someone had broken into a Scientology computer system and stolen information that was publicly posted on the Internet via Helsingius' remailer on January 23. This date led to speculation about what information taken from the church would cause the Scientologists to take such drastic measures in response. The speculation has focused around an article posted to a.r.s via on that date by someone using the name "-AB-" which has subsequently been confirmed to be the user whose identity was sought and obtained by the Church of Scientology. Oddly, this article had nothing to do with secret church teachings, but was about an incident nine days previously involving Tom Klemesrud, the system operator of the BBS used by Dennis Erlich.

The "Miss Blood" Incident

On January 14, Tom Klemesrud visited a Los Angeles bar after returning from a convention of BBS sysops in Denver. According to Klemesrud, a woman came up to him at the bar, they began conversing, and then they went to another bar. At the second bar the woman allegedly told him that she was an IRS agent, showing him a laminated ID card with the letters "IRS" in blue. The subject of Scientology came up, and she mentioned the names of IRS agents who had been involved with the investigation of Scientology's tax-exempt status in the 1980s. Eventually, says Klemesrud, they ended up at his home where he says she asked to see his BBS because she was supposedly investigating Scientology's tax-exempt status. After asking a few questions about users of the L.A. Valley College BBS, the woman excused herself to use the bathroom. When she did not return immediately, Klemesrud says he went to check on her and saw blood on the floor through the partially opened doorway. The woman spread blood around Klemesrud's bathroom, carpets, chairs, and bed, and police were called to the scene. According to the police report, the apartment was quiet, there were bloody jeans on the hall floor, and blood was smeared in the bathroom and on the bed. Klemesrud was sitting in a chair and the woman was sitting on the bed. Klemesrud told the officers that his shotgun was in the kitchen, and they retrieved it from a closet in the kitchen area. The police report states that Klemesrud said he let her into his apartment because she claimed to be an IRS agent, and that she went into the bathroom and began cutting herself. He also reported that she was trying to frame him in an attempt to silence Church of Scientology critic Dennis Erlich (the police report confusedly states that Klemesrud was a "critic for" Scientology). The woman's account in the police report, on the other hand, stated that they had met in a bar the previous week and she came to his apartment that evening. She stated that he loaded his shotgun when she entered the bedroom, pointed it at her, and stated, "How do you like that, I can kill anybody I want." She explained the blood as the result of a medical problem with rectal bleeding and hemorrhoids aggravated by alcohol and stress, and denied any involvement with Scientology or acquaintance with anyone in Scientology. Klemesrud says that while he originally was under the impression that she was cutting herself in the bathroom, he is now convinced that she was cutting open "a bag, bladder, or balloon nestled in her crotch" which was filled with blood and which he both saw and poked when she turned to sit on his bed and spread blood on it. He maintains that "if this is a medical problem, then she has an intestine or artery running outside her body filled with cold almost coagulated blood."

Klemesrud was arrested on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon and released on $30,000 bail the next morning, while the woman was allowed to leave the scene without any examination. A police detective was subsequently unable to contact her. The District Attorney rejected the charges, refusing to prosecute.

Dennis Erlich posted a short account of the incident to a.r.s on January 15, 1995, while another version of what happened was anonymously posted on January 23 by "-AB-." The latter posting claimed that its author "called in a very big favor owed me" to obtain the name and telephone number of the woman involved in the incident with Klemesrud, and sent "a trusted friend (aspiring investigative reporter)" to interview her. This version of the story agreed with Klemesrud's account that they had only met the evening of the incident, rather than the week before. It then goes on to claim that Klemesrud had accused her of being in the CIA, threatened her with a shotgun, demanded that she have sex with him, and repeatedly telephoned the Church of Scientology until she called 911. Klemesrud says that he called the FBI and 911 as she single-mindedly moved repeatedly between the bathroom and the bedroom and spread blood around. He grabbed his shotgun from the corner of his bedroom and placed it in the kitchen, then hid it in the closet. He says that he never mentioned the CIA, and believed her to be an IRS agent until he first saw the blood.

On January 24, the Los Angeles Times contacted Scientology for comment on the story, but the request was declined. That evening, however, the Church of Scientology's OSA faxed what was apparently a signed declaration by the woman involved to the Times. This declaration gives an account of the incident which is virtually identical to that posted by "-AB-," including the erroneous detail that Klemesrud had a 10-gauge shotgun (it was a 12-gauge, as described in the police report). No newspaper article on the incident was published.

This incident raises numerous unanswered questions: Who is "-AB-"? Where did he obtain his information? Why did the Church of Scientology later fax almost exactly the same information to the Los Angeles Times? Why did the Church of Scientology take such extreme measures to obtain "-AB-"s identity? Why would a woman with no connections to Scientology give her declaration to the Church of Scientology rather than the police?

Protesting the Church of Scientology

On March 13, the authors of this article along with three others picketed the Scientology building in Mesa, Arizona to protest the church's treatment of alt.religion.scientology. The Scientologists called the police, but since picketing is legal in the U.S. provided it is done in an orderly manner, the policeman advised the picketers not to cause any disruptions and left. The picketing was quiet and no disruptions or arguments occurred. Just before the protest ended, the Scientologists photographed each of the picketers. As the picketers left the scene, a man with a camera waited to take photographs of their cars as they drove by, perhaps to obtain license plate numbers. The protest was relatively uneventful, and prompted one article in the Religion section of the Scottsdale Tribune on March 18.

On March 24, however, Eugene Ingram, Scientology's principal private investigator, showed up at the place of employment of one of the authors (Jacobsen) and began taking photographs. Recognizing Ingram, Jacobsen immediately asked him, "Do you have a warrant for your arrest in Tampa, Florida?" Ingram replied, "Not anymore." Jacobsen then checked and confirmed that the Tampa warrant for Ingram's arrest for allegedly impersonating a police officer was still valid, but Ingram had left. The next evening, Ingram visited Jacobsen's sister's home and asked about Jacobsen's financial status. He was told to leave and did so. Ingram was next seen driving through Jacobsen's neighborhood in such an unusual and frequent manner that neighbors called the police. At one point, Ingram questioned a 13-year-old neighbor, asking him if he knew Jacobsen, and showing him one of the photographs taken on March 24. Ingram did not question any of the adults who were present outside the home at the same time as the young teen.

On March 28, Jacobsen was served with a subpoena ordering him to be deposed by Scientology's in-house attorneys regarding a case filed by the director of the Cult Awareness Network against a cult front group. On April 4, Jacobsen received a telephone call from his local phone company, reporting that someone claiming to be him had made three attempts to access computer data from his phone bill. These attempts were unsuccessful only because he had previously placed a pass code on his phone accounts on the advice of another church critic who had been subjected to the same intelligence-gathering technique. These events suggest that the Church of Scientology took the protest more seriously than an outsider might imagine.

"Ruin Him Utterly"

Why does the Church of Scientology use such an "iron fist" approach to criticism? Consider what L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the church, taught was the proper method of handling any perceived outside threat. For example:

"The DEFENSE of anything is UNTENABLE. The only way to defend anything is to ATTACK, and if you ever forget that, then you will lose every battle you are ever engaged in, whether it is in terms of personal conversation, public debate, or a court of law. NEVER BE INTERESTED IN CHARGES. DO, yourself, much MORE CHARGING, and you will win." (Emphasis in original. L. Ron Hubbard, Magazine Articles on Level 0 Checksheet, p. 54.)

"The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody is simply on the thin edge anyway...will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly" (ibid, p. 55).

"ENEMY - SP suppressive person Order. Fair game. May 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" (HCOPL, 18 October 1967, Issue IV).

"This P/L does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP" (HCOPL, 21 October 1968, the supposed "Cancel" of Fair Game, which really just abolishes use of the name "fair game.")

These passages are sacred scripture to a Scientologist, as are all of Hubbard's writings on Dianetics and Scientology. So, to do other than attack a perceived enemy would be to contradict church doctrine.

More Recent Events

For several weeks, a group of pro-Scientology posters seemed intent on overwhelming a.r.s with off-topic posts, single paragraph posts of questionable interest, and single sentence follow-ups to long articles which requote the entire posting being replied to. Between March 26 and March 30, 1995, for example, just two of these mass posters placed 139 articles on a.r.s between them, for an average of 28 per day. This tactic was reminiscent not only of the Scientology plans for handling the group mentioned above, but of a plan suggested by Scientologist Russell Shaw, who on January 28 posted that the way to stop critics was to out-post them. "Now, I'm not talking about a paltry 100-200 posts a day. I'm talking about ENOUGH of the success stories to really 'paint over' all of the graffiti. If a particular newsgroup had 100 negative posts a day going to it, then we would need to post at least 2000-3000 success stories a day to that newsgroup." Recently, however, this technique has been all but abandoned, probably because it is very simple to "killfile" particular posters so that you don't see their articles at all.

More extreme responses have also occurred. Church attorneys have sent letters suggesting potential legal actions for copyright violations against at least four other critics. Another a.r.s critic, Grady Ward, received an unannounced visit on April 14 from two Scientologists at his Arcata, California, home. One of the Scientologists, Jeff Quiros of the San Francisco Church of Scientology's OSA, drove five hours to Arcata only to leave and return to San Francisco after Ward phoned police without speaking to him.

One of the most recent tactics adopted by Scientologists on a.r.s has been to criticize anonymous posters or those using pseudonyms, as well as investigate them and reveal their real names. In one case, a user posting under the name TarlaStar was shocked to find her real name posted to a.r.s by Scientologist Andrew Milne after receiving a strange phone call from someone named "Judy" claiming to be an employee of Internet Oklahoma, her network access provider. (Internet Oklahoma employs no one named Judy.) She was further surprised and angered when Scientologist "Vera Wallace" (a pseudonym) reposted not only her real name, but her home address and telephone number. Wallace wrote to a.r.s on April 11 that "It is Andrew's right, as it is mine, to post the name of anyone who is hiding behind a phony name while spewing forth lies...No one is telling you to stop your tirades, but at the same time, no one can tell me not to find out who you really are and publish your name for all to see." Other Scientologists on a.r.s have made similar condemnations of anonymous posting, contradicting a statement by Los Angeles church spokeswoman Karin Pouw in a February 28 AP story that "We have nothing against anonymous posters...It's a great freedom and the right of everyone to communicate as long as anonymity is not used to cover up a crime."


It remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of the Internet conflict are for the Church of Scientology or its critics. Court documents, declarations, and secret teachings of the church continue to appear on a.r.s. The church appears to be willing and able to engage in further litigation against critics on the basis of copyright infringement. At the same time, however, Scientology itself faces legal battles as several high-ranking Scientologists are about to go on trial in Spain. According to Lawrence Wollersheim, RTC chairman David Miscavige continues to avoid subpoenas as Wollersheim attempts to collect the multimillion dollar judgment he was awarded in his case against the church which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

One thing seems clear, and that is that the critics have the upper hand on the Internet. The Church of Scientology's usual strategies for handling critics backfire when harassment is reported on the network whenever it happens, almost as soon as it happens, potentially to millions all over the world.

Additional Information

The best source of information about Scientology's activities on the Internet is, of course, the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. Ron Newman's web pages give a well organized account of recent events with hyperlinks to supporting documentation:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's web site has documents pertaining to the Dennis Erlich case FACTNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network) archives are available on the web ( via FTP) ( Other recent articles about Scientology and the Internet have appeared in Time (April 1995). Books on Scientology include A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics, and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed, 1990, by Jon Atack, Carol Publishing Group; and Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard, 1987, by Russell Miller, H. Holt.

The latest updates on the legal battles between Scientology and FACTNet (the Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network) may be found at


Skeptic published a news update to this article in Vol. 3, No. 4. For current news, see Ron Newman's web page, cited above.

The "Science" in Scientology
A Note From the Publisher to Scientologists Reading This Article

"Ideas and not battles mark the forward progress of mankind."
-L. Ron Hubbard, posted on the board room at the Religious Technology Center in Los Angeles.

It is the policy of Skeptic to offer individuals and groups the opportunity to respond in a subsequent issue to anything written about them or their claims. A quick glance through the Forum sections of our back issues will reveal that we are more generous in space and open to responses of any kind than any other magazine we know. We will extend The Church of Scientology the same courtesy. The Church of Scientology may submit a single response to the above article that will be published in the next issue of Skeptic, up to 2,000 words in length.

Stories of how Scientologists often respond to articles about the church are legion and legendary. Perhaps they are even exaggerated (one hopes). Our interest in publishing this article is strictly in the free speech aspects of communication and debate on the Internet, not in Scientology or its claims. Skeptic has made no public statement about the church or its claims, and indeed, if a court decides that some of what has been posted on the Internet is a violation of copyright or trade secrets, or surpasses the fair use guidelines, then we certainly would not endorse such postings (any more than we would want people republishing our copyrighted articles without permission). On the other hand, neither do we endorse the tactics alleged to have been used by Scientologists to silence actual or potential critics, especially those who have not violated any copyright or trade secret laws and who merely wish to report on the activities of the Church, which is perfectly moral and legal. Let me try to convince you why it is to your benefit not to silence critics:

  1. It is bad publicity to try to silence critics. It makes the public think that you have something to hide and that you are afraid of something being exposed; like a secret cult or conspiratorial cabal.
  2. It calls attention to the critic and his criticism that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. E.g., raiding a critic's home resulted in numerous articles in major newspapers and magazines, as well as many more postings on the Internet that would not have happened otherwise.
  3. Your critics might be completely right and you would have just squashed the truth.
  4. Your critics might be partially right, and you would have missed part of the truth.
  5. Your critics might be completely wrong, but in the process of examining their wrong claims, you discover the truth, how thinking can go wrong, and improve your own thinking skills.
  6. In science (and you do call yourself "scientology"), it is not possible to know the absolute truth about anything, and so we must always be on the alert for where we have gone wrong and how others have gone right.
  7. Being tolerant of critics means you will have a greater chance of being tolerated when you are critical.
All of these points, of course, assume an underlying foundation of rationality, fairness, and an openness to those who do not necessarily share one's viewpoints.

An interesting philosophical question that is raised in this debate is whether religious doctrines received through some form of revelation, or scientific doctrines discovered in nature, can be copyrighted, protected, and held in secret. Certainly books, videos, CDs, magazines, and other forms of communication and publication can and should be copyrighted. But religious principles and scientific discoveries themselves? Some say yes, though most scientists and theologians would say no. The reason is simple. In order to determine the truth about some claim, the best procedure is to broadcast to as many people as possible, the claim, the evidence for the claim, and the theory that best explains the claim (this is called publishing), in order to get critical feedback. Darwin was a genius at this. He literally wrote thousands of letters to experts all over the world asking for criticisms of his theory before he published it. In this way he defused most criticisms before his book was even published. Since you have adopted the name "science" in the title of your church, perhaps you would be interested in receiving critical feedback on your claims in a scientific manner. If so, perhaps an experimental protocol could be established to test your claims. If not, we have no interest in engaging in any hostile exchanges with the church. If you wish to keep your claims and doctrines secret that is your business and we will respect this. But this is not how either science or religion is normally done in the quest for truth. I look forward to receiving your response. -Michael Shermer, Publisher

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