Protesting Scientology from YouTube to the Streets

by Suzie Raven
Special to iVoryTowerz

This week, thousands of people protested against the Church of Scientology in 90 cities worldwide, including Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, various locations in the U.K., Sydney, and Washington, D.C. There’s something refreshing about religious demonstrations that don’t involve suicide bombers, roadside grenades, or the threat of World War III.

It’s also refreshing that some members of the Internet group called “Anonymous” emerged from their safe, on-line hiding spots. Before, their crusade against Scientology seemed somewhat juvenile. In their protest, they criticize Scientology for its cult-like practices, sign-up costs to join and allegations of negligence on the part of the church. At the end of January, hackers broke into the church’s servers and prevented access to one of its websites after declaring "war" through You Tube. (Who does that?) At best, the protest group's messages on YouTube are reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, but the word creepy also comes to mind. If they are so passionately against Scientology, they shouldn’t be – and thankfully they finally aren’t – afraid to own their opinions.

There are many things wrong with the Church of Scientology. For starters, Scientology founder and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard once said: "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." There are obvious moral concerns with founding a religion to make money (and charging people to join), but Hubbard apparently knew what he was doing. Only 50 years later, Scientology claims to have at least 8 million followers worldwide, and to be the fastest growing religion in the world.*

The protests were sparked by the birthday of one of Hubbard’s ardent followers, Lisa McPherson, who died in December of 1995 while in the church’s care. After a minor accident that left her physically unharmed on November 18, 1995, she got out of her car and removed all of her clothing. Paramedics took her to a hospital for care. The hospital wanted to administer psychological care. But a group of Scientologists told the medics McPherson did not believe in psychiatry. She then left the hospital with the group of Scientologists. The church cared for her until her death 17 days later. Reports show that she was severely underweight, dehydrated and bruised when she was delivered to a hospital, dead on arrival. McPherson’s family filed a civil suit against the Church of Scientology. The church was indicted on two felony charges in 1998, but the felony charges were eventually dropped. And the family settled with the church in 2004.

Official church doctrine refers to any drugs, including medicinal and psychiatric drugs as “disastrous.” Coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally), Hubbard preached a hard line against drugs, saying that toxins remained in the body through excess fat tissues.

The McPherson family may have settled its case, but Anonymous will continue the battle. They plan to strike again next month on Hubbard’s birthday.

In the meantime, graduate school is getting expensive… any takers on the Church of The Raven?

*The statistics sometimes used by Scientologists on the church's number of followers may include people who only took introductory courses. At various times, the church has claimed millions of members in the U.S. However, the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 lists 55,000 practioners in the U.S.

(Photo by skenmy of Essex, UK, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Anonymous said...

America was a success as a fledgling nation in large part because she offered freedom of religion as a basic premise of her existence at a time in which many people around the world were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

All religions are controlled by humans and flawed to some degree and can all be attacked. Take any religion, find a specific situation, twist it a bit out of context and poof, you have a fear mongering story that draws readers, Rush Limbaugh does the same thing every day in politics but in politics at least everyone knows that being attacked is an essential part of the game.

Admittedly, Scientologists are an odd lot, but I can site a lot of religions that today seem normal but a few hundred years ago were outcasted. Frankly, attacking any religion makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach.

Rick Rockwell said...

True, the U.S. was founded on religious tolerance, although the history of the U.S. reveals intolerance in a variety of instances.

And yes, many religions have dark periods too: just consider the Inquisition.

However, this column did not invent the existence of the anti-Scientology movement. And even though this piece does carry opinion, “fear mongering” is far from what it does by reporting on these protests. Constructive criticism would have pointed out specifics of where this article went off the track instead of using the tactic of building credibility with truthful general statements before a blanket anonymous condemnation.

Also, as usual, and as pointed out by this article, anonymous protesters usually undercut their arguments by throwing stones from hidden locations.

Although freedom of religion exists, that does not put religions above the realm of fair commentary on the actions of religious practitioners in the name of their faith.

Suzie said...

The simple fact that no religion is perfect is exactly the reason why people should be allowed to criticize.

This country was founded by people who wanted to speak their mind without fear of retribution. This means that anyone can express an opinion: the Scientologists, the protestors, and people writing about the issue. Also, the article does not only criticize Scientology – it also talks critiques Anonymous for previously hiding behind the secrecy of the Internet.

Anonymous said...

I thought the specifics were so obvious that it would be banal to point them out.

The fear element of the blog is built around Hubbards statement that you start a religion to get rich. There are many witnesses who claim Hubbard made that statement but I cannot find anything on the internet in which those witnesses put that statement properly into context. Who knows, maybe Hubbard was trying to make the exact point that religion is too married to money, but the only way to know that would be to listen to whatever he said 30 minutes before and after.

I am sorry but that is sensationalism, and sensationalism is the basic building block of fear mongering.

Also I posted this one as anonymous because I don't want a bunch of Scientologist nutcases to start recruiting me.... How's that for fear mongering! Honestly I don't like Scientoligists in the least, neither do I like television ministers who claim to be able to faith heal, or religions that support polygamy. I just think attacking religion is bad sport.

Rick Rockwell said...

This series of anonymous comments has me rethinking anonymous remarks on the blog.

How are we to be sure the author is sincere? Or perhaps the comments are actually part of a Scientology tactic? Maybe that appears paranoid, but some who are familiar with the sordid history of Scientology may be aware of a directive from the founder Hubbard about how to deal with critics. The technique was called “dead agenting.” Basically, this meant the credibility of critics should be challenged at every turn. In essence, this is a public relations tactic to attack the messenger.

The quote that started this series of remarks is one that Scientologists find controversial, although a variety of science fiction writers and others have noted Hubbard made that comment and similar statements during conventions of science fiction writers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, to say that the context of all that was said must be included with the quote to glean its exact meaning attacks the very foundation of journalism, which is to quote material and provide evidence of its meaning and context as we seek the truth of the matter.

My truth tells me that if someone calls using that quote fear-mongering they have other agendas. And how are we to understand those if the person remains hidden?

For more discussion about Scientology and why some feel the anti-Scientology rallies should not be considered controversial please go here. That discussion thread challenges the idea that Scientology is a religion, which I would say is much more than what this posting started out to say.

John Charles Palazzo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Rockwell said...


Thanks for revealing yourself.

You are right. Discussions of religion do have to come at a very high level. Perhaps it was the sign that set you off.

This blog, as you know, isn't afraid to wade into many controversial topics. I do think we were fair here, considering the history of Scientology.

But we certainly welcome more debate.

Suzie said...

What, exactly, is sensationalist about this post? I did not make up this quote. It's actually very well known.

Religion is a sensitive topic, but that does not mean it should not be covered. Respect and criticism are not mutually exclusive.

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