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Jon Atack Helps Us Remember Scientology’s “Religious Freedom Crusade”

JulieCTJon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He now has a new edition of the book out, and on Saturdays he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.

Yesterday, we pointed out that Scientology is pulling out all the stops for today’s grand opening of a new “Ideal Org” in Portland, Oregon. For some reason, church leader David Miscavige seems to believe that these manufactured events somehow can help Scientology with its miserable public relations problem. (They won’t.) But there’s something about Portland that Miscavige would like to capitalize on — it does have a special place in church history. We decided to ask Jon Atack to help us understand that.

Jon, who was Julie Christofferson-Titchbourne (pictured at right, with her attorney Garry McMurry), and why was her lawsuit in Portland so important?

JON: Julie Christofferson spent her tuition fees for college on Scientology, believing that it would give her marketable skills. When she found that it didn’t, she asked for her money back. What she didn’t realize was that asking for a refund makes you “Fair Game,” as L. Ron Hubbard explained: “The ex-student should realize this makes him Fair Game” (HCOPL 5 APRIL 1965, HCO Sec Hat HCO JUSTICE DATA RE ACADEMY & HGC).

So a simple refund request for a few thousand dollars turned into a nightmare battle. Here’s what Blue Sky says about it…

The suit had originally been filed in 1977 and arose out of a claim for a refund of some $3,000 dollars. Julie Christofferson had become involved with Scientology in 1975, when she was 17. She had taken Scientology courses in place of a college course in engineering, and had spent her college money in doing so. She claimed that fraudulent representations had been made to her about the value of Scientology qualifications, and the changes that Scientology counseling and training would bring to her. Her original Complaint charged outrageous conduct, the infliction of severe emotional distress and fraud.

It was the third time that the case had been brought to trial. In 1979, Christofferson-Titchbourne had been awarded $2.1 million. In 1982, the ruling had been overturned by the appellate court, dismissing the claim of outrageous conduct, but also striking the evidence of several Scientology witnesses.

The 1980s rift in Scientology had started after the appellate decision. Thousands had either left or been expelled from the Church. Among them were many valuable witnesses, and since the [1984 Gerry] Armstrong case there was a greater willingness to go on record. Bill Franks, who had been Executive Director International in 1981, and had controlled the purge of the Guardian’s Office, took the stand and when asked by the Church’s attorney whether he had thought Scientology created “mindless robots,” he responded, “not at the outset.” When asked his current opinion he replied, “Absolutely.” He complained about the manipulation of members, and the ludicrously high cost of Scientology. Franks said abandoning Scientology had been the hardest move of his whole life. He maintained that most Scientology staff members are decent people, but added, “Scientology plays on decency. That’s the whole hook.”

The details of a Guardian’s Office operation were put into evidence. “Operation Christo” had been aimed at Julie Christofferson Titchbourne, her family and even a Lutheran minister….

Martin Samuels gave devastating testimony. As the head of the Mission involved in the case, he had been a principal witness in the earlier trial. His life had been torn apart after the San Francisco Mission Holders’ Conference in 1982. By the time of the new trial, he had brought his own case against Hubbard, also in Portland, for $72 million. Before testifying, he was denied immunity from criminal prosecution for committing perjury at the 1979 Christofferson trial. On the stand, he said representations made by him that his Portland Mission had not been connected to the national Scientology organization were false. He also said that Scientology witnesses had been coached to lie before the original trial, in what he called a “witness college.” In the original trial, the Church had carefully constructed a fabric of lies, just as they had proposed to do in the Guardian’s Office trial before Meisner’s surrender to the FBI.

Defense witnesses testified to the benefits of Scientology on their lives. The Church claimed that their First Amendment rights were being violated, and that religion was being put on trial. On May 18, 1985, after two days of deliberation, the jury awarded $39 million dollars in damages: $20 million against Hubbard, $17.5 million against the Church of Scientology of California, and $1.5 million against the Church of Scientology Mission of Davis.

During the trial, the Scientologists had waged an advertising blitz in newspapers and on local radio and television stations and this continued with the “Crusade for Religious Freedom.” Two jurors told the press that the advertising had not influenced their decision. Jurors also claimed that they had not been influenced by threatening phone calls they had received during the trial from callers claiming to be Scientologists.

A Church spokeswoman told the press, “This is a bizarre plot to destroy the Church. They [the jurors] decided that religion as practiced by Scientology is not protected by the Constitution. Throughout the case we demonstrated beyond a doubt the government’s involvement in a conspiracy against the Church.”

Scientology attorneys immediately moved for a mistrial. Within a few days, bus-loads of Scientologists were arriving in Portland to protest the decision. A candlelit parade was arranged, and Scientologist celebrities, including John Travolta, gave talks. A Church spokesman’s estimate that half a million protesters would turn up proved to be grossly exaggerated: Chick Corea performed to a crowd of about 2,000 Scientologists in Portland. For weeks, protesters marched in front of the Courthouse, calling themselves the “Crusade for Religious Freedom,” and carrying banners proclaiming “Save Freedom of Religion” and “Restore the Bill of Rights.” The protesters listened to vehement speeches given by Scientology officials, and punctuated them with choruses of “We shall overcome.” The rhetoric of Church spokespeople was strident: “This is akin to burning a witch, to nailing somebody to a cross – an outright attempt to exterminate a religious group,” for example. It was said that deprogrammers had turned Julie Christofferson-Titchbourne into a “mindless robot.”

The Scientologists kept up what seemed to be senseless pressure. Nonetheless, trial Judge Donald Londer’s decision, given two months after the jury ruling, came as a surprise. He declared a mistrial, on the grounds that he had failed to strike remarks made by Christofferson-Titchbourne’s attorney that Scientology was not a religion from the record. Consequently, it had been represented to the jury that they could punish Scientology for purely religious beliefs. He also criticized the attorney’s characterization of Scientology as a terrorist group and of Hubbard as a sociopath.

The Church was triumphant.

 
THE BUNKER: Her case was happening at the same time as the Lawrence Wollersheim lawsuit in Los Angeles. We’ve always thought what made these two lawsuits so dangerous for the church was that it was Scientology’s processes that were on trial. Are we right about that?

JON: Yes, litigants tend to ask for their PC folders — which have always been mysteriously lost, quite often in a far off country — and to put embarrassing material into court. The cult was highly susceptible to its OT materials being exhibited. Wollersheim in particular was asserting that his mental health had been severely affected by “processing.”

THE BUNKER: We figure most people have probably forgotten that her case went back so far, into the late 1970s. But the timing of the verdict was crucial — would you say the “Crusade” helped Miscavige consolidate his power after a bruising few years when he was taking control?

JON: I think that is a fair observation. Hubbard agreed with Hitler that an enemy is a necessity if you are to unite your following, and Christofferson and Wollersheim gave a focus outside the cult. Given that Miscavige never produced any authority that allowed him to take over — and that he was only a lowly midshipman in the Sea Org — the second Mission Holders’ Conference, in 1982, and these high profile suits gave him a platform.

THE BUNKER: Is there any obvious reason why the Crusade would have succeeded in Portland, but then a year later failed when the same strategy was tried in Los Angeles with the Wollersheim trial?

JON: I think it was down to the judge. I think he heartily believed that he shouldn’t have allowed Christofferson’s attorney to criticise the cult’s religious status to the jury. But this came from the confusion sown in his mind by the protest. It was the first time that we heard about OTs “praying” for the judge. OT VII’s (the highest level at the time) were brought in and sat in the front row in court. In this case, the prayers were of the Satanist type — the judge’s body thetans were to be “enturbulated” so that he would succumb.

THE BUNKER: Last week, we posted an internal church e-mail which showed that only a little more than 600 Portland Scientologists had agreed to show up for today’s event. A far cry from the scene in 1985.

JON: How are the mighty fallen. One organizer of the 1985 march later told me about the elaborate bus system used to bring marchers back to the beginning of the parade to trick the numbers up. Even the two thousand then could be an overestimate…

THE BUNKER: Thanks, Jon. We’re hoping to have some live reports from folks at the scene for today’s grand opening, so check back to see if we’ve added to the post.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on May 11, 2013 at 07:00

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