The Scientology Money Project

Why the Church of Scientology Gets Away with Flagrantly Abusing and Harming its Own Members and How to Stop It

(Note: This article was originally published at Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker and is republished here with a new title)


Jeffrey Augustine is back, continuing on his investigation of Scientology’s governing documents and what they mean for members and ex-members. This time, Jeff tells us about the thing every ex-member of Scientology should do as soon as he or she has decided to leave…

In America, freedom of religion is typically considered in positive terms: Americans are free to embrace or reject religion as they please. Monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, animism, and every other religious form under the sun are allowed to be practiced in America without any interference from the government.

Churches, temples, mosques, and ashrams are free to determine their own internal form of government, rules, and discipline. The government is prohibited from intruding into these ecclesiastical matters. The First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution guarantees these rights. In the legal case Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese, Etc. v. Milivojevich, the Court stated:

“…the First and Fourteenth Amendments permit hierarchical religious organizations to establish their own rules and regulations for internal discipline and government, and to create tribunals for adjudicating disputes over these matters. When this choice is exercised and ecclesiastical tribunals are created to decide disputes over the government and direction of subordinate bodies, the Constitution requires that civil courts accept their decisions as binding upon them.”

So long as the “rules and regulations for internal discipline and government” do not violate US law, the members of a religious group can be subjected to harsh ecclesiastical tribunals, severe punishments, and even the humiliating public disclosure of their sins and the US courts cannot do anything about it. This is the dark side of “freedom of religion.”

A really clear example of this is a court case that I think has a lot of relevance for Scientology. It was the 1984 dispute known as Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville, which was ultimately decided by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Marian Guinn joined the Church of Christ in 1974 in the small community of Collinsville, Oklahoma, where up to five percent of the local population belonged to the church. Several years into her membership in the church, Guinn, a single woman, began dating the town’s mayor. The mayor was a divorced man, and according to the Church of Christ, the only form of divorce condoned by the Bible was one caused by adultery, which was not the situation in the mayor’s case. So the church considered Guinn’s relationship with the mayor to be “unbiblical,” and the church elders demanded a meeting with her.

In that meeting, Guinn admitted that she was sleeping with the mayor, compounding the problem in the eyes of the elders. They told her to end the relationship, and she promised to repent. In a second meeting, the elders demanded that Guinn appear before the assembled church membership and publicly confess to the sin of fornication. Instead, she stopped attending the church.

So the elders then drove to her house for a third confrontation, and again demanded that she make a public pronouncement of her sin. They then sent her a letter warning that if she didn’t do what she was told, she would be withdrawn from the fellowship, and she realized that the elders intended to inform the congregation of her deeds. She sought legal advice, and her lawyer sent the elders a letter advising the not to discuss her private life with the congregation. Guinn also sent a letter making it clear that she had left the church and had rescinded her consent to be governed by its rules. This turned out to be crucial.

A few days later, the elders ignored her request to respect her privacy and read out a letter about her involvement with the mayor to the congregation. They also encouraged the church members to contact Guinn and ask her to repent. When Guinn met with one of the elders and again asked that her privacy be respected, he told her that her attempt to withdraw herself from the congregation was “doctrinally impossible” — as far as they were concerned, they still governed her and she could never leave on her own.

Guinn’s private life was not only discussed at her church, but the facts of her “sin” were also sent to four other local Church of Christ congregations to be read aloud to the members.

Marian Guinn then filed suit against the church for invasion of privacy and emotional distress. The Church of Christ argued in court that because its rules do not permit its members to ever resign or depart from the Church, the Church’s rules applied to Guinn even after she resigned. (A jury eventually awarded her $390,000.)

The Church of Christ, like the Church of Scientology, would like its members to think of it as the Hotel California: You can check out any time you want but you can never leave. However, this is simply not correct. The Guinn court offered an instructional and highly valuable ruling:

Just as freedom to worship is protected by the First Amendment, so also is the liberty to recede from one’s religious allegiance. In Torcaso v. Watkins the Court reaffirmed that neither a state nor the federal government can force or influence a person to go or to remain away from church against one’s will or to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. The First Amendment clearly safeguards the freedom to worship as well as the freedom not to worship.

As an aside, what this tells us is that the Scientologist who wishes to resign from the Church in order to escape its oppression and abuse is free to do so by sending the Church a written statement of resignation that includes a specific withdrawal of one’s consent to be governed by Scientology’s doctrinal rules. (And please note that I am not an attorney; this article may not be relied upon for legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney in your state for specific legal advice about your particular situation.)

The point here is that anyone desiring to resign from a church and withdraw their consent to be governed by the rules of that church must make a positive act. This means writing a letter to appropriate church officials specifically stating one’s resignation and withdrawal of consent. In the case of the Church of Scientology one needs to resign from the IAS, the Church of Scientology International, and all Orgs where one has signed membership services contracts and had services; the positive act should be as broad and sweeping as possible.

The court record in Guinn is specific on the point of withdrawing consent (emphasis mine):

The Elders had never been confronted with a member who chose to withdraw from the church. Because disciplinary proceedings against Parishioner had already commenced when she withdrew her membership, the Elders concluded their actions could not be hindered by her withdrawal and would be protected by the First Amendment. Parishioner relies on her September 24, 1981 handwritten letter to the Elders in which she unequivocally stated that she withdrew her membership and terminated her consent to being treated as a member of the Church of Christ communion. By common-law standards we find her communication was an effective withdrawal of her membership and of her consent to religious discipline.

Consent is the crux of the matter in terms of religion in America. Once an individual consents to be governed by a church’s rules, that individual is fully subject to the rules and the punishments, however harsh they may be, for breaking those rules.

Once an individual resigns from their church and withdraws their consent to be governed by church rules, however, the church no longer has any rights to punish them. As the Church Discipline blog wrote of the Guinn matter:

This bears repeating. Once a withdraw has occurred the First Amendment protections don’t belong to the church, rather they belong to the individual. All religious activity in the United States is consensual, a person who publicly claims not to be a member of a church is legally not a member of that church and church discipline cannot continue without consent. A church attempting to discipline a person that has withdrawn can be found to be engaging in a form of harassment.

Where the Church of Scientology radically differs from every other church in America is that it has a malicious intake system in which new members are systematically stripped of their civil rights when they sign a series of waivers.

In a previous article in the Bunker, I laid out the four basic contracts the Church of Scientology uses to legally assert its First and Fourteenth Amendment religious protections against its own members.

In business terminology, the Church of Scientology “front loads” its membership terms and conditions. What this means is that Scientology ensures that it is legally protected at the outset from any potential or conceivable future legal consequences from new members by using secular contract law against new members. These contracts legally position the Church deeply behind the religious protections of the US Constitution.

The brutally honest answer as to why the Church of Scientology has gotten away with what it does to its members is simple: Scientologists consented to it. Even if that consent was coerced, not understood, given under compulsion or the threat of an SP Declare and disconnection, that consent allowed the Church to become the beast it is today. When Scientologists no longer consent to the Church’s brutality and abuse they leave by their positive acts of resignation or escape.

The Church of Scientology is like a rigged casino: Thanks to its Constitutional protections, the odds are absolutely and irrevocably stacked in favor of the house. Like all rigged casinos, people will have some wins in Scientology; but over time the house takes everything. That is how the game is designed. The only way out is to resign from the Church and to withdraw one’s consent to be governed by the Church of Scientology’s rules.

Beyond withdrawing your personal consent, the larger solution is to demand that the IRS and Congress act to revoke Scientology’s 501(c)3 tax exemption. Once Scientology loses its tax exemption — and this will happen — Scientology will be a business subject to civil and criminal penalties. As it now stands, Scientology is an evil Cult that gets away with murder. This must stop.

— Jeffrey Augustine

8 replies »

  1. Addendum to my article above:

    In another Oklahoma Supreme Court case, Hadnot v. Shaw, the court referred to its earlier ruling in Guinn:

    ¶26 In Guinn this court recognized a jurisdictional boundary limiting the powers of the ecclesiastical judicature. The church’s jurisdiction exists as a result of the mutual agreement between that body and its member.

    “All who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this government, and are bound to submit to it.”

    That relationship may be severed freely by a member’s positive act at any time.

    ¶28…Guinn reaffirms ecclesiastical judicature. It also recognizes that parishioners must positively act to withdraw membership if they intend church jurisdiction to cease.

    Church jurisdiction is a mutual agreement between a church and its members. A church can excommunicate or declare its members and the members can also resign and withdraw their consent to be governed by church rules. Both sides can tell each other to go to hell, so to speak.

    The point in Hadnot is that anyone desiring to resign from a church and withdraw their consent to be governed by the rules of that church must make a “positive act.” This means writing letters and/or e-mails to appropriate church terminals specifically stating one’s resignation and withdrawal of consent to be governed by CSI or any other church or missions within the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Scientology churches.

    In the case of the Church of Scientology, I would think one needs to resign from the IAS, the Church of Scientology International, and all Orgs where one has signed membership services contracts and had services; the positive act should be as broad and sweeping as possible.

    The IAS is the Church’s membership organization so I would definitely resign from the IAS by writing to the IASA. The IASA is the operating arm of the unincorporated IAS.

    In the case of Sea Org members, the Sea Org does not legally exist — and this per what CSI told the IRS and what CSI lawyers told the court in Rathbun v. Miscavige. See this article:

    Thus, a person cannot resign from the Sea Org as the Sea has no members or volunteers. So what one would do is to is to revoke their SO pledge to serve for one billion years. That’s all the SO is in reality: A pledge to serve for one billion years. By revoking one’s pledge, the pledge becomes null and void. By analogy, it is like saying that one no longer accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior and therefore rejects his spiritual authority and refuses to recognize him as divine. One is free to accept of reject both Jesus and the Sea Org.

    This is what CSI told the IRS in its 1992 application for 501(c)3 tax exemption:

    To reiterate what essay, David Miscavige’s attorney Wallace Jefferson declared in 2014 in Rathbun v. Miscavige et. al (emphasis mine):

    “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. The evidence Mrs. Rathbun has submitted fails to establish a prima facie basis for an alter ego finding, because none of it involves the defendants’ purported contacts relating to this suit, nor does any of it speak to the organizations’ current practices.

    The requirement to “route out” of the Sea Org is an ecclesiastical rule. Once a person revokes their consent to be governed by the Church of Scientology then the “routing out” ecclesiastical rule is not enforceable. Of course, the Church can retaliate by ordering one’s family members to disconnect and those still in are obligated to obey or face disciplinary actions.

    Disconnection-as-Retaliation is one of the major reasons why the Church of Scientology is held in utter contempt by Western Culture. Breaking up families out of revenge is as evil as it gets for a so-called church. Disconnection is also a tacit admission of powerlessness, for it is a form of emotional blackmail that only a demented and inherently weak group would use. Disconnection is not true power; it is rather an act of weaknesses perpetrated by cowards.

  2. Is there any legal precedent for resigning and receiving our folders (i.e., PC & Ethics folders) from the church?
    (And thanks for your great work!)

  3. Excellent work as always Jeff.

    As an aside, I’d like to draw your attention to the use of membership contracts/covenants in some Christian groups. If you scroll back through the list you’ll see some horror stories, though none as bad as those involving Scientology.

    Religions is a hobby of mine. I like understanding people, and religion is often central to that.

  4. Hello Tara. The answer to your question is, unfortunately, no. Scientology makes every Scientologist sign a contract stating that all folders belong to the Church forever. Even your heirs cannot get them. I covered this in my article How Scientology Inc. Legally Cripples Its Own Members: The Four Unconscionable Contracts. Here is the relevant section:

    3. Agreement Regarding Confidential Religious Files. Summary: In this particular contract, a Scientologist forever signs away all their rights to ever read, inspect, review, or own their preclear folders. Although Scientologists pay the Church of Scientology hundreds of thousands dollars to go up the Bridge, no Scientologist may ever read, inspect, review, or own their preclear folders. The Church owns these folders forever, Moreover, when a member leaves the Church and speaks out, OSA culls the person’s preclears folders to look for dirt on that person in an attempt to shudder them into silence. This is so shabby and illegal and yet it happens. Excerpt:

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