THE USERS of the Net have such diverse interests that in some ways it's stretching the truth to talk about a true electronic community. But if a catalyst were needed to unite them in the face of a common enemy, it has surely been found in the shape of the Church of Scientology.
Netropolitan has already alerted readers to the shenanigans that some of its more enthusiastic supporters have got up to in the past (Netropolitan, 29 April). The ante has now been well and truly upped after the church mounted three raids on the homes of Net users who it claims have infringed the copyright of the works of their former leader, L. Ron Hubbard, by releasing extracts of his writings over the Net.
The main battlefield in the flame war is still the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup, where Scientologists defend their faith and other people debunk their claims. The debate often spills over into the comp.org.eff.talk newsgroup.
The problem with a.r.s is that the arguments have been going on for so long that the thread of debate can be hard to follow. One way to keep up to date is to peruse Rod Keller's review of the week in a.r.s at [obsolete URL deleted -- it's now http://www.amazing.com/scientology/ars-summary.html], although lately the sheer number of messages posted to a.r.s has caused his schedule to slip a bit.
Another good summary of the situation so far is maintained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation at http://www.eff.org/pub/Censorship/CoS_v_the_Net/.
Scott Goehrin [sic -- should be Goehring], one of the founders of the a.r.s newsgroup, has his own home page with links to nearly everything you need to know about the efforts of the church to silence its opponents. It is at http://copper.ucs.indiana.edu/~sgoehrin/scientology/home.html. [Note by Ron Newman, 2/17/98: It has since moved to http://php.indiana.edu/~sgoehrin/scientology/home.html.]
While all three raids have taken place in the US, the debate has provoked plenty of interest in Europe. Try http://mail.bris.ac.uk/~plmlp/scum.html for links to active British opponents of the church. For similar links throughout Europe, go to http://www.xs4all.nl/~fonss/. [Note by Ron Newman, 2/17/98: This page is defunct.].
Netropolitan's support for freedom of speech naturally extends to the church itself, whose own Web site (maintained by its head of media relations Leisa Goodman) is at http://www.theta.com/goodman/. Her page summarises many of the doctrines.
On the same server as Goodman's page is the Task Force for Responsibility and Freedom on the Internet, http://www.theta.com/trfn/, which is a front organisation for the church, and has been set up to encourage proper respect for the laws of copyright.
NETROPOLITAN is at firstname.lastname@example.org.