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Another Narconon Lawsuit, Oregon Dentist to Fight Order, and More Scientology Links

Stacy Dawn Murphy

Friday turned out to be an incredibly busy day for Scientology watchers. After putting up our morning post about the church’s troubles in Atlanta, where its drug rehab program, Narconon, is being investigated by the state of Georgia, we then had to scramble when we received an e-mail from a state agency in Oregon.

That e-mail contained the 69-page order that requires Bend dentist Andrew Engel to pay nearly $348,000 to his former dental hygienist, Susan Muhleman, for religious harassment because she felt forced to quit her job when he kept insisting that she attend a three-day Scientology symposium.

At the same time we were jamming to get that story up, however, we were aware that the Murphy family in Oklahoma was making public that it had filed a lawsuit against Narconon’s flagship operation in that state, where their daughter Stacy Murphy, 20, died in July. And much more was happening. So let’s catch up this morning with some links…

Jarrel Wade of the Tulsa World and Jeanne LeFlore of the McAlester News-Capital remain on top of developments in eastern Oklahoma, where Scientology’s drug rehab program is dealing with multiple lawsuits and government investigations. They reported yesterday that Robert Murphy and Tonya White, the parents of Stacy Murphy, filed their lawsuit against not only the Narconon facility but also the osteopath who was listed as the center’s medical director. The family of Hillary Holten is also suing the Narconon facility after their daughter died on April 11 following a short stay at the Narconon Arrowhead rehab center. Gabriel Graves, 32, also died at the center in October 2011.

“You think it’s something that’s going to fill the void, but it will be an empty victory,” Robert Murphy told the Tulsa World.

The lawsuit itself spells out the familiar story with Narconon, involving distraught parents looking for a place to put a child addicted to drugs, and relying on a slick website that portrays Narconon as a reputable drug treatment center where patients get effective drug counseling in a safe setting with highly trained staff and medical supervision. In reality, what patients get is Scientology training, not drug counseling. They get unscientific treatments of sauna use with high dosage of vitamins. And staff at the facilities tends to be former patients, not medical staff.


We’ll be watching this case closely.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, dentist Andrew Engel says he’s going to fight the state’s order that he pay nearly $348,000 to his former dental hygienist, Susan Muhleman, after she had to move out of state to find another job when she refused his request to attend a Scientology symposium.

Last night, Portland’s KTVZ-TV reported that Engel will be appealing the case, and that Muhleman might not see the money “for years, if at all.”

And up in Montreal, CJAD radio host Barry Morgan had a conversation with Jefferson Hawkins, one of the most interesting ex-Scientologists. It was Hawkins who was behind Scientology’s big 1980s advertising push, and helped the church reach its greatest expansion. Hawkins had access to enrollment documents, and is perhaps the best authority on the actual size of the organization. Some time ago, we used his expertise to estimate that the number of actual, active Scientologists is only about 40,000 around the world. But now, Hawkins says the church is still dwindling, and he puts worldwide membership at only about 25,000. Yikes!

And yet more news out of Portland, Oregon. Synthia Fagen brought this one to our attention: the renovation of Scientology’s “Ideal Org” has stopped after apparently running out of money. We’ve seen similar money woes at other Ideal Orgs (New Haven, for example), and we expect this may become something of a trend.

Most of the longtime, formerly loyal church members who are leaving and declaring their independence — often in long-winded online screeds — invariably point to Scientology leader David Miscavige’s Ideal Org scheme as one of the key reasons for their disillusionment. For about a decade, Miscavige has pushed local church members to raise huge sums, so that their perfectly adequate (and not full) local “orgs” can be replaced by fancy new facilities, often put in a historic building. But the purchase, renovation, and upkeep of that new “Ideal Org” is all put on the locals, who are not numerous to begin with. For years, we’ve been documenting what the locals are put through as they have to attend one fundraiser after another in order to raise the money for buildings that aren’t really needed anyway. Is it any wonder that those buildings may then become money-draining liabilities? We’ll be keeping an eye on this.

And finally, we noticed that attorney Scott Pilutik had some really interesting things to say about the Engel decision in the comments section last night. They deserve to be seen, so we’re posting them here as well:

This is a fantastic decision and I applaud the ALJ/Bureau for its thoroughness. I’m not familiar with Oregon administrative law but I’m guessing the precedential weight of this is akin to a state circuit (trial) court decision and that the next step is the court of appeals.

The best part of this decision can be found in footnotes xi — xiv, where the ALJ discusses Scientology’s religiosity, noting that the complaint alleges that all of LRH’s non-fiction writings are necessarily religious in nature and the dentist declined to dispute… And that one of the dentist’s arguments was that the Tone Scale used by the consultant was different than the Tone Scale used by the CoS. Oh really? Is Silkin a new word for Squirrel?

This decision is already useful regardless of whether it’s appealed because it definitively establishes that the Tone Scale is religious, meaning that any CoS front group using the Tone Scale which somehow got government money is vulnerable. Even if the decision is reversed on appeal that reversal may be grounded in some other basis (the decision doesn’t necessarily have to rest on Scientology’s religiosity), but I think that the ALJ was mindful it would be appealed and accordingly did an exceptional job immunizing it–it’s 69 pages for a reason.

Now that the Tone Scale’s religiosity has been so concretely established I wonder whether Scientology removes the religious designation of it on their website or simply instruct all the ostensibly secular front groups that it’s off limits.

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