14
Scientology in Court: A Look
at Some Major Cases from
Various Nations

James T. Richardson


Introduction

Scientology, which claims to have churches in 150 countries with ten million members in all (Church of Scientology, 2007), has been perhaps the most litigious religious group in modern history. Since its inception in 1954 it has filed innumerable lawsuits against governments, individuals, and organizations in a long-running effort to establish itself legally as a religion, and to defend itself from allegations made by outsiders, former members, and government officials. Indeed, it has been said that Scientology uses legal action as a weapon against those with whom it has disagreements. Whether this is the case or not, it has been noted that large numbers of lawsuits have been filed by Scientology organizations in many different countries. For instance, when the Internal Revenue Service in the United States finally decided to grant tax-exempt status to the Church of Scientology, as a part of this controversial settlement, the New York Times reported that Scientology agreed to withdraw dozens of lawsuits against the IRS (Frantz, 1997).1

Scientology has also been forced to defend itself from civil suits and even criminal charges, as well, with former members claiming that they were tricked into participating in Scientology and paying significant sums for the auditing courses offered by the organization.2 One such civil case was that brought by former member Larry Wollersheim in 1988 in California. He was initially awarded a total of $30 million by a civil jury (including $25 million in punitive damages) that accepted his claims even though they were based in part on unscientific evidence concerning “brainwashing.”3 Similar cases were brought against Scientology over several decades in America,

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