20 questions about Scientology — with answers that get to the center of a dying movement

(Authored by Jeffrey Augustine, this essay was originally published by Tony Ortega at the Underground Bunker and is reprinted here for archival purposes)

1: What is the Church of Scientology?

Technically speaking, there is no single entity known as the “Church of Scientology.” As the organization told the IRS, the term “Church of Scientology” is one of convenience referring to all of the churches in the Scientology hierarchy:
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“Flag” (the Flag Service Organization in Clearwater, Florida) is a separate Scientology church, as is the Religious Technology Center, the Church of Spiritual Technology, and so on. All Scientology churches are legally separate.

2: Why are all the churches in the Scientology hierarchy legally separate?

In order to mitigate the dangers posed by lawsuits, all of the “churches” in the Scientology hierarchy were set up to be legally separate. Before beginning any service sold by Scientology, a Scientologist must sign one contract for one service with one church. The legally separate nature of all churches is stated in each of the contracts Scientologists must sign before receiving services:
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3: If there is no “Church of Scientology” then how does a person become a member of the Church of Scientology?

Legally speaking, the Church of Scientology is a “term of convenience” and therefore can have no members. So what do Scientologists actually join and belong to? Scientologists must join the “official Scientology membership association” known as the “International Association of Scientologists.” In order to receive services from any Scientology church, a Scientologist must be a member of the IAS. There may be exceptions for introductory courses, but as a general statement Scientologists must be IAS members to progress up the Bridge.

4: What is the IAS?

According to Scientology’s own website, “The International Association of Scientologists (IAS) is an unincorporated membership organization open to all Scientologists from all nations.”

5: What is an unincorporated membership association?

An unincorporated membership association has no legal existence apart from its members. The IAS cannot legally do anything in and of itself.

6: If the IAS cannot do anything then how does it get anything done?

The IAS has an operating arm called the International Association of Scientologists Administrations (IASA). From the IASA website: “IAS Administrations is a non-profit foundation contracted to provide services to members of the IAS — the International Association of Scientologists.”

7: Scientologists are prevailed upon frequently to donate money to the IAS for various IAS statuses; what are IAS statuses?

IAS statuses are essentially meaningless honors having no real world value. For example, apart from the IAS, it means nothing to be an IAS Patron Meritorious. IAS statuses merely indicate how much money a Scientologist has donated. IAS statuses confer status upon a person in the Church of Scientology and nowhere else.

8: Where do IAS donations actually go?

The IAS offers virtually no financial accountability to Scientologists for how IAS donations are spent. There are occasional PR announcements made by the IAS concerning grants it has made for Scientology Volunteer Ministers or other Scientology-related efforts. However, these efforts appear to be wholly geared towards PR for Scientology and nothing else. (Members were told, for example, that recent Super Bowl ads were paid for with IAS “grants.”) In legal terms, donations to the IAS are “unrestricted,” meaning donations can be spent in any way the IAS deems necessary. Former Scientologists have said that IAS donations effectively constitute David Miscavige’s personal slush fund and that he does not have to account to anyone for how he spends it. The ever increasing emphasis on IAS donations in the past fifteen years tends to support the view that David Miscavige places a very high value on having an unrestricted source of funds at his disposal. Moreover, every dollar donated to the IAS is a dollar for which the Church does not have to deliver any corresponding services such as auditing.

9: The Church of Scientology makes a great fuss about the Sea Org and how the Sea Org is clearing the planet. But what exactly is the Sea Org?

The Sea Org appears to be a legal fiction. As David Miscavige’s attorney Wallace Jefferson has argued in Rathbun v. Miscavige: “Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Miscavige exercised control because he leads the Sea Organization, a religious order within Scientology. But the ‘Sea Org’ is not a corporate entity; it has no physical or legal existence. It is not incorporated or established pursuant to legal formalities. It has no constitution, charter or bylaws, and no formal or informal ecclesiastical, corporate, or other management structure. It has no directors, officers, managing agents, or other executives; no employees, staff members, or volunteers; no income; no disbursements, no bank accounts or other assets; no liabilities; no stationery; no office, home, address, or telephone number. It does not create or maintain any financial, personnel, or other records. It can neither give nor receive orders because it has no one to either give or receive them or to carry them out. It cannot sue or be sued.”

10: If the Sea Org does not have employees, staff members, or volunteers, and does not exist in any meaningful way, then why does the Church of Scientology International have the Sea Org?

The Church of Scientology needs a labor pool even though the Church does not want the liabilities of employees, paying minimum wage, overtime, or offering other worker protections or benefits. Therefore, the Church of Scientology created a “religious order” and named it the Sea Org. In America and other Western countries, religious workers are exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other worker protections that employees receive. In the scenario presented by the Church, then, members of the fundamentally non-existent Sea Org religious order sign billion-year contracts as a pledge of their devotion to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. Thereafter, these Sea Org members are assigned to individual churches and sign five year staff contracts. Religious worker status also allows the Church of Scientology to conduct its notorious prison-like Rehabilitation Project Force program under the guise of “spiritual rehabilitation.”

11: Given that the Sea Org does not legally exist, who actually recruits Sea Org members; manages their training and indoctrination into the Sea Org; gives them a meager weekly stipend; administers the RPF; and assigns them jobs in the Church of Scientology?

The Church of Scientology International does.

12: What is the Church of Scientology International?

The Church of Scientology International is the “administrative Scientology church,” also called the “Mother Church” which had been previously assigned to a now defunct entity, the Church of Scientology of California. CSI does not deliver auditing or other Scientology services. Rather, CSI licenses and manages the legally separate Scientology churches (Orgs) beneath it. In return for its services, CSI collects management fees and a percentage of Org income.

13: CSI licenses the churches beneath it. Who licenses CSI?

The Religious Technology Center (RTC) licenses CSI to sell and deliver Scientology goods and services. In exchange, CSI pays RTC licensing fees and a percentage of CSI’s income. RTC’s purported task is to ensure the ecclesiastical purity of the Scientology religion. David Miscavige is the Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center, which is why he is known as “C.O.B.” to the Scientology membership.

14: Who licenses RTC?

This is an interesting question. RTC owns the “Advanced Materials” of Scientology, i.e. the OT levels. The rest of the Scientology’s intellectual property is owned by the Church of Spiritual Technology (CST). CST licenses this intellectual property to RTC who sub-licenses it to CSI.

15: This sounds like a franchise system.

The easiest way to think of the Church of Scientology is as a franchise system, the legal design of which is evasive and constructed to fend off lawsuits, discovery, and court trials. We covered this in our last installment in the Underground Bunker where the Church of Scientology’s system of unconscionable contracts was discussed. Essentially, no one in the Church of Scientology – Sea Org, Staff, or Public – has any power whatsoever. Only David Miscavige has any power and his power is that of a Dictator.

16: Who actually owns the Church of Scientology?

The Church of Scientology is nothing more than a predatory intellectual property-based business engaged in selling and delivering personal psychotherapy services. The Church is therefore owned by the two corporations that own and license the intellectual property and the rights to deliver its personal psychotherapy services: The Church of Spiritual Technology and the Religious Technology Center. Given that CST is, by charter, a passive entity, the effective and active owner can only be RTC. Thus, whoever controls RTC effectively owns and controls the Church of Scientology. At present, this person is David Miscavige.

17: Given that the Church of Scientology is an IP-based personal services business, it logically follows that a management and sales force is needed to administer, sell, deliver, and collect the revenues deriving from this intellectual property. Is this the real purpose of the Sea Org?

In my opinion yes. The “Church of Scientology” is fundamentally a predatory business that does not want the financial liabilities associated with employees. Said another way, the Church of Scientology is designed to extract the maximum amount of money from its client base while reducing its cost of operations to the bare minimum. From this perspective, the IAS is far more lucrative than operating the Sea Org to deliver personal services. Based upon this assessment, it is easy to see why the Church of Scientology’s main business these days is focused in the pure sophistry of selling IAS statuses.

18: Given that selling IAS statuses is so central to the Church of Scientology, why does the Church bother with the expense of staffing and maintaining its existing Orgs and purchasing and renovating new Orgs?

The answer is multifaceted: The IRS does not allow 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations to endlessly hoard wealth. The IRS instead requires tax exempt groups to spend a portion of monies collected for the public benefit. Scientology must spend some of its wealth and real estate – in the form or “new Ideal Orgs” — is one of the few things the Church can easily justify to the IRS as being a public benefit.

New Ideal Orgs serve to create the appearance to Scientologists that their Church is expanding and growing. Actually, the Church is contracting and losing membership. Nevertheless, because the Church must spend some its cash hoard and the interest it generates, Scientology will, predictively, continue to purchase and open buildings — although at a reduced pace as we are seeing. IAS donations act to offset any financial losses associated with purchasing empty and financially non-performing Orgs. In the long run, the Church of Scientology will continue to accumulate a vast real estate portfolio as a function of its tax exemption.

Referring back to Scientology as a franchise system, the Orgs are the only RTC-authorized locations where Scientology auditing services may be delivered. This is really no different than saying that Goodyear tires may only be purchased and mounted at authorized Goodyear dealers by Goodyear trained service technicians.

Orgs are a place where a member of an unincorporated membership organization called the IAS meets a member of a non-existent Sea Org to receive auditing. The money moves through the Org and uplines to CSI, RTC, and CST. The poor Sea Org members get virtually nothing.

If the Church of Scientology began closing Orgs it could cause a calamitous “run on the bank” in which Scientologists lined up by the thousands for refunds in fear that Scientology was going out of business. The purchase of Orgs creates a confidence factor that Scientology is not going out of business.

19: How do you see the Church of Scientology in 2017?

The Church of Scientology has become about accumulating MEST (physical property) while substituting IAS statuses for any claimed form of spiritual enlightenment. Indeed, it seems any pretense to spiritual enlightenment in Scientology has gone out the window in favor of celebrating IAS statuses and raising money endlessly for buildings.

20: Do you have one of your charts?

Intended to be read from bottom to top, the chart below is the latest attempt in my series of wall charts that attempt to explain the Church of Scientology.

5 comments

    1. Poet13c, after David Miscavige left his post as COB ASI, this for-profit entity became essentially meaningless in the scheme of things. I did not include it for this reason. Of course, in any history of how David Miscavige came to power, the five years he spent at ASI would be central.

  1. A question.
    If “the IAS cannot legally do anything in and of itself”, then how can it contract with the IASA “to provide services to members of the IAS”?
    And also, wouldn’t the IASA then be the right target for discovery and for the IRS to get accounting of where the money goes and how it’s spent?

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