The Church of Scientology (CoS) was conceived by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). It’s fundamental tenets are based on Hubbard’s “Dianetics” system, a self-help program and body of spiritual practices (Lewis, 2009). The group was first incorporated as a religion in 1953 in Camden, New Jersey and has been embroiled in controversy ever since.  Many of the controversies involving the CoS centre around attempts to challenge or remove material from public libraries.

Several countries have followed the United States’ lead and officially recognized the CoS as a bona fide religion, complete with the usual perks and tax exempt status. Countries such as Australia and Canada also endorse the CoS’ claim to authenticity (Lewis, 2009).  Countries such as France, Germany and Italy do not. This is an extremely important legal distinction, especially in regards to launching religious defamation actions.  Official religious status has allowed the CoS to challenge several books and have them removed from library collections.  Even though they enjoy religious status in many countries, the CoS is well aware that many do not view them as a “real” church. The CoS has cannily avoided this point of contention and often frame their challenges around civil and not religious objections.

In spite of the deluge of promotional materials about the church, their true beliefs and inner workings are shrouded in secrecy and misinformation (Lewis, 2009). The CoS can be extremely protective in regards to their institutional knowledge and internal functions. This behaviour has contributed to an unfortunate trend of anti-Scientology suspicion, paranoia and ridicule.

The beliefs of Scientologists are not at issue here (although their practices may be). Members of the group are free to believe whatever they wish. They may not, however, *do* what they wish and their actions often bring them in conflict with libraries. Libraries have an obligation to create collections that reflect the values of their communities (American Library Association, 1989). If members of the CoS are members of a library’s community, it follows that CoS related material be included in the collection. The inclusion of such material will not only reflect the views of CoS members but provide valuable information for curious readers and researchers seeking to examine the group with a critical eye.

This principles of representativeness and inclusion are not the sole right of Scientologists. Users who hold views critical of the CoS deserve to have their perspectives included as well. Unfortunately, the CoS does not always adhere to a live and let live philosophy. The group has often been criticized for its harsh treatment of former members and critics. Their tactics include, but are not limited to, lawsuits, personal harassment, media campaigns and even allegations of blackmail (Lewis, 2009). While some of these allegations may be nothing more than anti-Scientology paranoia, many have been proven in courts of law. Many of their actions have had direct impacts on the intellectual freedom rights of the public and on libraries themselves.

In June of 1974 the CoS launched an unusual sort of challenge on materials held in several major Canadian public libraries (Library Journal, 1974). CoS founder L. Ron Hubbard’s legal action campaign had recently resulted in several out of court settlements against the publishers of four Scientology exposé books. Dell Publishers and Tower Publication settled for USD$7500 and USD$500, respectively. The majority of library challenges take place via an official complaints process, such as the complaints ladder outlined by the ALA (American Library Association, 1989). The CoS sidestepped the accepted library practice and directly target publishers.

Emboldened by the capitulation of these publishers the CoS declared their intention to take legal action against any Canadian library or bookstore that refused to remove material they felt was objectionable. They went so far as to issue writs threatening legal action (Library Journal, 1974). Several libraries, including Sir George Williams University and St. Mary’s University conceded to the requests and removed the offending items. This end-run around established practice has several serious consequences to intellectual freedom and public good. The decision of remove the titles was based on the threat of reprisal and not on any objective examination of materials selection policy.  Freedom of speech cannot truly be exercised when speakers are under such threat (Alexander, 2005). This tactic also created a environment of pluralistic ignorance, where the opinion of a small minority becomes so loud as to overrule the opinions of a silent majority (Sunstein, 2003). The legal threats excluded the involvement of other religious or community groups and prevented members of the public from engaging in the decision making process.

The challenged books include Cyril Vosper‘s The Mind Benders (1971), George Malko’s Scientology: The Now Religion (1970), Robert Kaufman’s Inside Scientology (1972) and The Scandal of Scientology (1971) by Paulette Cooper. The Vosper book contended with a unique challenge as Vosper outlined in an updated edition of his 1971 text. The CoS claimed that Vosper (a former high-ranking CoS member) had divulged institutional secrets and was in breach of a confidentiality agreement (Vosper, 1974). The CoS was careful never to claim religious defamation, instead choosing to frame the issue around the less politicized realm of contract law.

Although the publishers removed Malko’s book from print, it is now available for free on the Internet. Access to the item can be problematic, as host sites routinely appear and disappear. The CoS challenge of Malko`s title contends he was in breach of copyright laws. By printing content created by CoS members, Malko was said to have broken one of the principles libraries hold most dear. A savvy tactic, considering many library staff are highly sensitive to copyright and are loathe to breach such laws.

Paulette Cooper suffered a worse fate than her colleagues. Evidence obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows that Cooper was the focus of a concentrated CoS harassment campaign (Marshall, 1980). The FBI contends that Scientologists framed Cooper for staging bomb threats, blackmailed friends into counselling her to commit suicide and had agents dressed as Cooper make embarrassing public statements. Perhaps the CoS underestimated Cooper`s resolve (she is a survivor of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp) as she continues to write to this day.

Both Hamilton and Etobicoke Public Libraries refused to remove these titles from their stacks (Library Journal, 1974). The Canadian Library Association (CLA)  set up a defense fund and rallied support from authors, publishers, booksellers and other libraries (Library Journal, 1974). While brave, the stand was largely symbolic. The titles were out of print and no longer available for purchase. Some copies were obtained from used book stores, but this source eventually dried up. Several libraries reported that existing copies had all been stolen or destroyed by vandals (Library Journal, 1974). A recent search of the Hamilton and Etobicoke (now Toronto) Public Library catalogues indicates most of these titles are now held in closed stacks and are not available for general circulation.

The threat of legal action is not the only tool in the CoS arsenal. The “Infuse the Planet with Source” library donation campaign takes direct aim at influencing the selections policy and collections of public libraries. Run by the Planetary Dissemination International Council of the CoS, the campaign seeks to place Scientology recruitment material in every single library in the entire world (Planetary Dissemination, 2008). This is no small feat.  Information on this campaign is scarce. The majority of the written word regarding the campaign was sourced from CoS pamphlets or other recruitment material.

The tactics of the campaign are fairly simple. Group members are encouraged to donate funds to the church, which are used to purchase pro-Scientology books. Unbeknownst to many of the purchasers is the fact that these items are not purchased from retail outlets such as Barnes & Noble or Amazon. The material is purchased from Bridge Publications, the CoS’ in-house publishing arm (Lewis, 2009).

Sets of books, DVDs and other materials are boxed and donated (unsolicited) to libraries around the world. In many cases these items bypass accepted selections criteria and are added to library collections without being critically examined. This tactic employs what some have referred to as a wedge or Trojan Horse strategy (Shermer, 1997). By accepting these seemingly innocuous materials, libraries open a thin gap in which the special interest groups can place a wedge.  These groups can force this wedge open and donate increasing levels of their materials. The danger is that such material is not evaluated by impartial professionals and circumvents policies designed to ensure representativeness of the community (LaRue, 2007). Library staff are not given the opportunity to balance their collections with alternate and opposing viewpoints. The shape of a library’s collection is not being formed by library staff or even the community at large, but by outside agencies with only their own interests at heart.

It’s unclear if this tactic has met with widespread success in North America (CoS literature claims the U.S. is “100% done!”), but the campaign has met with success in the Middle East and Africa (Planetary Dissemination, 2008).

While the threat of lawsuits and the foisting of recruitment material are the tactics that have most directly affected libraries, the CoS has a wide range of other strategies as well. The following examples have not been attempted in the library world but have been used to successfully challenge material in other spheres. Any librarian with an interest in preparing for religious defamation challenges would do well to make themselves familiar with these tactics.

Many libraries offer public Internet access as a service to their users. Any intellectual freedom issue that affects the Internet will at least indirectly affect the users of library institutions. In 2002, the Internet search engine Google was accused of removing the anti-Scientology website Operation Clambake (Loney & Hanson, 2002). Given the near ubiquitous nature of Google, the removal of the site from its index was tantamount to erasing it from existence. In this case, the CoS challenge was based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The CoS claimed that Clambake’s liberal use of Scientology quotes infringed on its copyright and demanded the site be delisted. Fred von Lohman, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the danger of such a tactic is that political opponents can now be silenced under the guise of copyright (Loney & Hanson, 2002). Such laws were designed to protect the authors of original works and were never intended to be used as political weapons. As repositories of information, libraries are particularity susceptible to this sort of backdoor challenge.

One of the primary goals of any library is to create a collection that reflects the borrowing and literacy needs of the community it represents.  If part of this community includes members who view Scientology in a positive light, then by all means, libraries should offer pro-Scientology material.  This principle works both ways.  If this material is to be included in the collection, library selectors also have the responsibility to balance the discourse by offering opposing, and sometimes even objectionable material from alternate points of view.

References and Further Reading

The writing of this article coincides with the soon to be released Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman.  The latest in the long history of CoS exposés is sure to reignite Scientology controversy in the popular press.  Check out this review from the Village Voice: Inside Scientology Promises a Lot, and Delivers by Tony Ortega.

  1. Effie says:

    I read the Village Voice’s review of Inside Scientology (and all the subsequent comments) and it seems like it will be a fascinating read. Have you started reading it? If not, would you like to read it along with me?

  2. I’ll have to look that up. I imagine the comment section was very interesting. I’d be happy to read that one along with you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s