The Daily Free Press

The Independent Student Newspaper of Boston University

Tuesday, September 5, 1995

This story was featured on the front cover, with the headline
Raider of the Lost Archive
BU's top trustee is heating up the Internet war in court

This article begins on page 4 and jumps to page 10.


Cooley fights 'net war for Church of Scientology

By Jennifer Booth
Daily Free Press Staff Writer

BOSTON, Sept. 5, 1995 -- It has been dubbed "The Church of Scientology vs. the Internet." It is a quiet war brewing in cyberspace, where everyone--from religious crusaders to Scientology dissenters, from lawyers to computer hackers--are dueling over free speech rights and copyright protection.

Accusations are flying in every direction. Internet advocates accuse the church of curtailing free speech by allegedly filing lawsuits or making threats against dissenters. Scientologists counter that vengeful former church members have used the Internet to publish copyrighted church secrets.

One man has become a blessing to the Scientologists and a bane to its opposers.

Boston University Board of Trustee Chairman Earle C. Cooley, a legal representative for the church for 11 years, has successfully stopped several alleged intellectual property rights abusers. While church representatives welcome his protection, some opponents question the ethics of Cooley's tactics.

And as discussion on the Internet news group alt.religion.scientology heats up, critics are quick to express their dismay that a trustee of a major university would help the Scientologists.

Church and State

Legal disputes involving the Scientologists are nothing new, those familiar with the religion say. This latest episode started brewing in April 1994 when former Scientologist Steven Fishman allegedly launched secret church information, known as OT Materials, over the Internet. [see Correction below.]

The church, which closely guards its copyrighted materials and trade secrets, claims Fishman stole their documents and violated the Copyright Act of 1974 by sending them over the Internet. [see Correction below.] Shortly after Fishman printed the papers, he found himself sitting in a California court room. The case is still pending in court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowed the OT Materials as testimony and, as a result, opened the information to public scrutiny. Little more was heard of the documents- it is said Scientologists borrowed them from the clerk daily to protect their secrets. Then Arnaldo Lerma, a 44-year-old former Scientologist, decided this summer to use the so-called "Fishman Documents" in his campaign against the church. Lerma, like many who have left the group, claims the church dominates an individual's life, leaving them with little sense of personal identity and without any privacy.

Lerma admits he dispersed part of the 2,000 pages of documents that Fishman had supposedly distributed over the alt.religion.scientology news group. Because the papers had already been published via the Internet, and because they were readily available from the California clerk's office, Lerma says his actions were not illegal.

But the church argued that the documents were still protected under copyright laws and could not be published. Scientology officials say they sent Lerma and his Internet access group, Digital Gateway Systems of Vienna, Va., a series of requests- Lerma calls them threats- asking him to stop distributing the materials. When Lerma refused, they took bolder actions.

On Aug. 12, a group of Scientologists and federal marshals invaded Lerma's Arlington, Va., home. During the three-hour raid, church representatives seized his personal computer, hard drive, software and disks under the protection of a warrant Lerma doubts was legal.

Cooley oversaw the raid, Lerma recalled bitterly in a phone interview last week. "Earle Cooley sat on my couch. He did not look pleased to be here. I think he knew something fishy was up," he said. Cooley, for his part, says he and the others who participated in the raid were well within their rights to carry out the warrant.

Lerma admits that some of his information contains the church's most confidential materials. But he insists that he only posted select materials from the Fishman case- material that had already been on the Internet. He said his actions were justified, claiming his messages serve to warn the public of what he called the "King of Cults."

"Everything [in Scientology] becomes defined by their terms," he said. "You lose touch with the world. All I was trying to do is inform the public. They need to know... and [people] need to do the right thing."

Lerma, who possesses extensive lists of Scientology dissenters, believes the raid was a scheme to intimidate him and to root out vocal opponents for later bouts of intimidation.

"The raid was supposed to intimidate. The whole thing was a show of power," said Lerma, who claims that the church's lawyers habitually manipulate the law. "There has been talk on the 'net that the whole intent was just to find [the church's] critics."

But Scientology officials insist the raid was a last-ditch effort to stop Lerma from revealing its trade secrets.

According to Scientology spokeswoman Lisa Goodman, Lerma was kicked out of the church 20 years ago because he could not adhere to the group's high ethical standards. Now, she says, Lerma and others like him have launched a campaign of hate against his former religious affiliation.

Cooley, a long-time Boston attorney who tackles BU's larger law suits, challenged the legality of Lerma's Internet postings.

"The fact that [the information] was in a court file that wasn't sealed... doesn't mean it could be copied," Cooley said.

Even if a work is used as court testimony, Cooley said, copyright laws prohibiting unauthorized re-publication are still applicable. Lerma's actions were especially harmful to the church because the papers are still being used in subsequent trials, according to Cooley.

Following the raids on Lerma and another man, Lawrence Wollersheim of Colorado, who also put OT Material excerpts on the Internet, the California courts sealed the Fishman Materials from the public.

"It's a simple case," Cooley said. "What's happening is this group on the Internet is in a frenzy over every attempt to stop them."

Internet users are indeed in a panic over the church's actions. Talk of staging protests is already circulating over the alt.religion.scientology news group.

Equally surprising is the fact that some Internet users have initiated a phone campaign, asking interested parties to call BU and demand Cooley's resignation. BU President John R. Silber's phone number and address have been posted, but BU officials say they have only received two phone calls from angry Internet users.

For Cooley and others in the legal world, the Internet has become a judicial nightmare. Lawmakers all over the country are still trying to hammer out the best way to regulate a world-wide network of news groups.

"Unfortunately, there is a view in cyberspace that they are their own country," Cooley said. "But when you turn off your screen, you are still in America."

Posting the Suit

The church did not stop its fight over intellectual property rights with the raids on Lerma and Wollersheim. Following the Lerma raid, the Washington Post published an article about Lerma that excerpted the OT Materials. Unknowingly, the paper had opened a window for the church to file a copyright infringement suit against the paper.

Critics point to the lawsuit against the Post as proof the church has gone overboard. Scientology officials attacked the newspaper for more than the quotations.

They have accused Post reporters Mark Fisher and Richard Leiby of conspiring with Lerma to gain and publish secret church materials in order to publicly disparage the organization.

Believing that Lerma shared its trade secrets with the reporters, the church filed a prior restraint request that would prohibit the Post from publishing any more of the "secrets" they allegedly possessed. Post vice president and counsel Mary Ann Werner happily reported on Friday that Alexandria, Va., U.S. district judge Leonie M. Brinkema- the same judge who authorized the Lerma raid- denied the request in an Aug. 30 decision.

"We quoted [the documents] very briefly," Werner said. "We used two sentences and two sentence fragments in a way written to illustrate a point."

Werner said the Fair Use Doctorine, a provision included in the 1974 Copyright Act, allows writers to quote brief passages from copyrighted material if the original author is credited.

Confident that the Post legally used the materials, Werner expressed only disbelief that the church attacked her reporters.

"Mark Fisher, our reporter who has covered the stories, has never even heard of the Church of Scientology," she said. "And now they're saying he conspired with them."

But the church, with Cooley's legal aid, vowed to prosecute both the Post and its reporters, alleging the paper became involved in an anti-Scientology campaign.

"The Post made a serious mistake in allowing themselves to be manipulated by a few maliciously motivated dissenters who want to use the Post to forward their religious hate campaign," Cooley said in a written statement.

Church or Cult?

"I was shocked to learn Earle Cooley was BU's board of trustee chairman," said Steve Hassan, a nationally-known expert on cults and an exit counselor for members of destructive religious groups, in an interview last Friday.

To have a university official defending the church, he said, may give students the impression that the group is a legitimate and healthy religion. But after years of counseling former Scientologists, Hassan said the group is anything but beneficial.

"In my opinion, [Scientology] is not a religion, it's a cult group," Hassan said. "[L. Ron] Hubbard was arrested for practicing it without a license. So he began calling it a religion."

"A legitimate religion will tell you who they are and what they believe in up-front," he said. "Scientology openly says what they are teaching is secret, and you can't know about it until they've assessed you and until you have paid a lot of money."

Scientology's teaching is arranged in tiers called "OT levels." Under church leaders' guidance, Scientologists are slowly taught the skills to purify one's body and soul one level at a time- none of the teachings contained in the next level are revealed until a member's current level is mastered.

Here's the catch, some critics say: none of the teachings are free.

According to Hassan and others familiar with the group, church members pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain their religion's teachings. For the wealthy- especially celebrity Scientologists like John Travolta and Tom Cruise- teachings are easy to buy. But others must find alternate ways to obtain the knowledge that will enlighten them.

"What happens is, if you don't have money, they have you work for them without pay," Hassan explained. "Essentially, people become indentured slaves."

Hassan is not the only expert to slam the 40-year-old philosophy. According to Marsh Chapel Dean Robert Watts Thornburg, countless researchers have criticized the church.

"Anyone who studies destructive religion thinks that Scientology is a very destructive religion," Thornburg said. "The Church of Scientology is by far the most litigious of the new religions."

Although he had heard little of the Internet controversies, Hassan said he did not doubt the words of former Scientologists who complain via the Internet of church harassment and intimidation. "I've known about them for 19 years. They've threatened me, they've hassled me. They've gone through my garbage," he said.

The Church of Scientology paints a very different picture of its faith.

"Scientology is a uniquely American religion," said David Aden, a spokesman for the church's Boston chapter. "The best description is that it's an applied religious philosophy. Scientologists apply the religious beliefs to the everyday world."

The philosophy, developed by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, teaches followers several ways to counter modern problems like stress, anxiety, drug abuse and family conflicts.

Scientologists have taken the skills they have mastered into the community, where they perform a number of public services, Aden said. He cited a program called Criminon, a prison rehabilitation method that aims to reduce the number of prisoners who become repeat offenders.

In addition, Scientology methods have been used to help children improve their literacy skills and learning potential, Aden said.

According to Goodman, the Scientology spokeswoman, charges that the church "brainwashes" or manipulates its members are absurd.

"Scientology wakes people up," Goodman said. "It's given them freedom. Scientology is not a belief system; you don't go into it with blind faith. People are encouraged to learn, to discover and to see for themselves why it works."

Goodman also denied accusations that the church intimidates its outspoken critics. For years, she said, people voiced their criticism of the church with no response from Scientology officials.

"They've been posting critical listings on the church for years," she said. "And we did nothing. It was only when they violated our copyright that we took action.

Cooley and the Gang

In defense of the work and principles of Scientology, Cooley said he is proud to represent the group.

"I have been working with these people for 11 years, and they are fine people," he said.

To Cooley, the church is a minority religion in need of strong legal representation. As a lawyer, he said it is his duty to see that a "misunderstood" religion like Scientology gets equal rights and protection.

"It's a lawyer's job to represent those who need to be represented," Cooley said. Cooley declined to reveal his religious affiliation.

This is not the first time Cooley has taken the side of a group that some people call a cult. After the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, Cooley represented some of the group's survivors.

And despite suggestions that Cooley's work with the Scientologists conflicts with his position as trustee chairman, Cooley said BU supports his efforts.

"I think it's in the highest principles that Boston University stands up [for] my representation," Cooley said. "I do not mean to be intimidated by a lawless group of rebels on the Internet."


Correction:

(printed Thursday, September 7, page 2)

The Daily Free Press incorrectly reported Tuesday that Steven Fishman, who fought the Church of Scientology, launched the church's secret materials on the Internet. The materials were submitted in court as testimony but not electronically published by Fishman. The Daily Free Press regrets the error.


See also:

Letters to the editor may be sent to letters@dfpress.com .
Visit the Daily Free Press's new Web site, http://www.dfpress.com/ .

This article is Copyright 1995 Back Bay Publishing, Co., Inc. All rights reserved. Any reproduction or retransmission, by any means, is prohibited by law. Reprinted with permission of Back Bay Publishing, Co., Inc.