As the Church of Scientology battles a band of cyberspace dissidents
- seizing computers and papers from the homes of vocal online
critics in the past two weeks - local defectors charge they are
being harassed for speaking out against the church.
Robert Vaughn Young and Stacy Young, longtime staff members who
left the Church of Scientology in 1989, complained to police that
Scientologists have picketed their house in West Seattle at least
five times in the past two weeks. They said protesters carrying
signs reading "Stop the Hate" and "Protect the
First Amendment" yelled derogatory statements about them
to their neighbors.
Ann Ruble, a Scientology spokeswoman in Seattle, called the picketing
a "peaceful First Amendment demonstration" to protest
the Youngs' involvement with the Cult Awareness, a Chicago-based
nonprofit organization that monitors religious groups such as
the Church of Scientology.
CAN condones the practice of kidnapping members and forcilbly
"deprogramming" them, Ruble said.
"It rips families apart," she said. "We don't
like the religious intolerance and bigotry going on in our town."
Robert Young for years handled Scientolgy public relations and
appeared on radio and television as a spokesman.
Young said the Internet - particularly a news group called alt.religion.scientology
- which he and others have used extensively to exchange information,
presents a "new threat to this organization."
"This is its worst nightmare," Young said, explaining
that the church is secretive about its operations and cannot effectively
control information on the Net.
Since the couple left the church in 1989 they have been vocal
critics of Scientology, describing it in articles and interviews
as a dangerous cult that does not tolerate criticism. They have
testified as expert witnesses in successful litigation against
the Church of Scientology.
Life inside the Scientology organization, they said, meant 12-hour
days, with as little pay as $24 a week, constant interrogations
attached to a lie-detector machine called an "E-meter"
and time in re-education camps called the "Rehabilitation
Project Force" where they performed hard physical labor.
Both the Youngs said they spent time in such camps.
"You just fold," Robert Young said. "Ninety-five
percent of the people that leave just want their life back. They
don't want to speak out."
The Church of Scientology international in Los Angeles dismisses
the Youngs as part of a small band of disgruntled ex-members,
some who have been extremely active on the Internet, trying to
extort money from them. It claims the Youngs have asked as much
as $500,000 from the church to keep quiet - a claim the Youngs
"When they left, they were helped to leave. There's no restrictions
on anybody coming or going," said Mike Rinder, a 22-year
Scientology member who said he worked with the Youngs.
Rinder accused the Youngs of lying about their mistreatment and
said the Youngs had not been "particularly successful at
anything they did."
He described the Rehabilitation Project Force as "a program
for church staff designed to rehabilitate people who are not
their duties well" that is an alternative to firing.
Rinder also said the "E-meters" used in counseling sessions
were designed to measure thought and help people "isolate
areas of upset and travail in their life."
He said the church has conducted four raids in the last year in
order to protect copyrighted scriptures.
"What we do not want is people to be violating our right
to have our religion practiced the way we want it to be practiced,"
The Church of Scientology is a religious movement headquearted
in Los Angeles that claims to have as many as 8 million members
around the world. It grew out of a publication of "Dianetics"
in 1950, a best-selling book on self-enhancement written by L.
Ron Hubbard. Members consider Scientology a practical religious
philosophy that helps them overcome daily obstacles. They pay
large fees to receive instructions on how to progress through
a series of levels of spirituality.
Scientology has about 500 active members in Seattle.
After a long battle with the Internal Revenue Service, the Church
of Scientology was granted tax-exempt status as a religion in
1993 and reported assets of $275 million.
In Boulder, Colo., Tuesday, U.S. marshals raided the homes of
two church detractors who ran an organization called FACTNet (Fight
Against Coercive Tactics Network), took their computers and files
and turned it over to Scientology members. Scientology lawyers
said they got the court order for the raids with charges that
the people were violating federal copyright laws by posting copyrighted
Scientology scriptures on the Net.
In a similar move two weeks ago in Arlington, Va., U.S. marshals
seized computer equipment and files from Arnaldo Lerma, a 44-year-old
electronics engineer who left the Church of Scientology in 1977.
The church said Lerma posted private and confidential teachings
on the Net. Lerma argued that the information he posted came
from an affidavit in a legal case involving the church and was
hence a public document.