Still Fighting for the First: The Church of Scientology Has Been Involved in a Number of Precedent-Setting Court Decisions

Article excerpt

The Church of Scientology has been involved in a number of precedent-setting court decisions.

When it comes to broadening religious liberty in America, the job usually falls to unpopular minorities. In the previous century, Catholics and Jews demanded freedom of worship. More recently, Jehovah's Witnesses sought the right to proselytize and the Amish sought exemption from public schools.

Court precedents continue to be set by religious minorities. Take the Church of Scientology International. Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 on tenets first expressed in his book, Dianetics, holds that the mind must be "cleared" of negative experiences of this or other lifetimes. The church's "processing" sessions use an electronic stress meter to clear the minzi. Some scholars have called it Buddhism with technology.

In recent years, however, the church seems to have spent as much time pursuing relief in the courts as it has tending its flock. "Looking at the size of the church around the world, with 8 million members, we don't have that much litigation," notes Heber Jentzsch, church president. "Because these are frontier issues, the cases do get a higher profile."

At the end of November, for example, a California judge ruled that internal teachings of Scientology, taught for a fee, have "trade secret" status, opening the way for a trial of Internet carriers that allowed circulation of the pirated material. "That puts us on the cutting edge," says Jentzsch. "These are all defensive legal actions."

Scientology has been involved in numerous rulings defining church-state matters. After Congress passed the 1984 Church Audit Procedures Act, Scientology won a test case against the IRS. The agency had to end an audit, pay fines and, in 1993, give the church tax-exempt status, recognizing "fees" for courses as tax deductible. …