Religious practice

[Originally published in Het Parool; translation by Patricia Savenije.]

THE FIGHT BETWEEN Scientology and its critics is getting dirtier by the minute. Coming Thursday, the lawsuit that the church has filed about the so-called ‘Fishman Affidavit’ (a court document that contains portions of the church’s course material) will serve in The Hague. (And to warn the readers: I am not neutral; I am one of the accused, together with four Internet providers).

Many critics – myself included – have become convinced that the church uses its copyrights mainly as a weapon against critics. As far as Scientology is concerned, the texts may never be quoted, paraphrased, or whatever; and whoever does so is, according to them, violating copyright laws. The Washington Post, who quoted a mere three lines from the document in an article about the church, has been taken to court by Scientology (of course, Scientology lost).

One of the US judges that handles a case similar to the upcoming Dutch lawsuit ruled in November 1995: “When the RTC [the Scientology department that holds the copyrights] approached the court with a request for a writ of seizure [of Arnaldo Lerma’s computer; Lerma is a former Scientologist who posted the Fishman Affidavit to an Internet newsgroup within the context of a discussion about Scientology’s religious beliefs], it brought the complaint under traditional secular concepts of copyright and trade secret law. But in the meantime, it has become clear that a much broader motivation prevailed -the stifling of crticism and dissent of the religious practices of Scientology and the destruction of its opponents. And as the venomenous rhetorics in the hearings have made clear, RTC seems more concerned about such criticism than about the protection of its copyrights.”

“We don’t oppose criticism at all, we only oppose the spreading of lies”, Scientology will thereupon invariably say, “so what this Judge is saying isn’t true.” In the meantime, I’ve seen the opposite. The church can’t stand criticism. The church also can’t stand opponents.

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THE DUTCH DEFENDANTS have decided to invite Steven Fishman to come to the Netherlands. Fishman is the man who caused all the turmoil, because he once submitted parts of the church texts as evidence in his defense; since then they are part of a court document. They wanted to see him – who is this man that we’ve read and heard so much about? – and give him a chance to tell his side of the story. After all, Scientology time and again calls him a psychotic, a criminal, unreliable and dangerous.

The shit hit the fan immediately after his arrival had been announced in alt.religion.scientology (the Scientology discussion group on Internet). Andrew Milne, Scientology’s spokesperson on the Internet and staff member of their international magazine Freedom, posted the most incriminating article about Fishman that I’ve ever had the chance to read. To everyone’s amazement, he managed to blacken homosexuality in the same stroke. Furthermore, he specified the junk mail that Fishman receives daily – which, unintentionally, made the readers wonder whether or not Scientology checks Fishman’s mailbox, or is maybe even responsible for the junk mail.

After my announcement of a protest meeting in ‘De Melkweg’ (a cultural centre in Amsterdam), where Fishman was going to speak and where a support fund for the defendants would be presented, more dirt was thrown. One Scientologist called all critics ‘neo-nazis’ and another one repeatedly corrupted my name into KKKSpaink – an unsavoury reference to the Ku Klux Klan. (All this while Andrew Milne only a short time ago had complained about the hatred displayed against his organization by critics. A clear case of ‘pot, kettle, black’, as the saying in alt.religion.scientology goes). To this moment, no Scientologist has replied to my public call in the newsgroup for a dissociation of this ugly calling of names.

Felipe Rodriquez, managing director of XS4ALL, posted a press release about the ‘Melkweg’ meeting in several Dutch newsgroups. This was immediately followed by an article from Karel Jeelof, a Dutch Scientologist, who quickly proved himself to be the local version of Andrew Milne. In his second article, he already started to wildly accuse Felipe: Felipe had cancelled his message, Felipe was violating his constitutional rights, Felipe withheld confidential information from others and Felipe was a coward. But the message was still there, nothing had been canceled at all. The man presumably hadn’t properly configured the software to read newsgroups (which means that messages disappear from the list once you’ve read them) and started to heavily accuse others without thinking twice. Apologies? Forget it.

Helene Schilders worked several weeks on an article about Scientology for Nieuwe Revu (a popular Dutch weekly magazine). She interviewed Fishman and others who have been taken to court for publishing the Affidavit on the Internet, and spoke to Julia Rijnvis and Martin Weightman (two Scientology spokespersons). Apart from that, she searched for information about the organization on the Internet.

When she faxed her article to Julia Rijnvis this weekend and asked her for a response by telephone, Rijnvis was infuriated about the result. Schilders was put through to US-member Leisa Goodman, Scientology’s international PR spokeswoman, who is connected to OSA (the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology’s secret service). Goodman was as enraged as Rijnvis and snapped: “I hope you know what you’re doing”. When Schilders politely asked what she meant by that – could it possibly be a threat? – Goodman repeated the remark and ended the ‘conversation’.

These kind of religious practices are way beyond me. But I am slowly starting to understand how the American expression ‘see you in court’ came about.


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