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Happy Birthday, Church of Scientology!


Sixty years ago on this date in Camden, New Jersey, the first “Church of Scientology” corporation came into existence with the signing of a document by six individuals, including L. Ron Hubbard and his son Nibs (L. Ron Hubbard Jr.).

In fact, three entities were born on that day: the Church of American Science, the Church of Scientology, and the Church of Spiritual Engineering. But you know L. Ron Hubbard — he was a marketer, if nothing else.

The following April, a newsletter based in Phoenix first appeared, calling itself The Aberree. It turned out to be an irrepressible publication that lasted another 11 years, and reflected the sense of humor that still existed in early Scientology.

In that very first issue, Scientology’s establishment as a church was announced, along with a text version of the December 18, 1953 document that created the New Jersey entities. Wrote The Aberree‘s editor, Alphia Hart…


The news was received with mixed emotions. Some were outspokenly antagonistic to the idea. Some who’d nursed the glories of self-determinism since Book One couldn’t subscribe to the new idea that the best way to win is to BECOME the enemy. Many from California feared that designating Scientology as a religion would classify it with that state’s 9,857,385,237.5 cults.

The piece goes on to make it clear that seeking refuge in religion was done primarily for fending off health officials, not tax collectors. Back then, the Food and Drug Administration was much more vigilant about quack medical claims, and Scientologists found themselves running into trouble for their promises about the healing power of the e-meter and Scientology processing. A Scientologist in Pasadena, Hart claimed, had recently spent 10 days in jail for practicing medicine without a license, and who needed that kind of trouble.

He also indicates that L. Ron Hubbard was granted a doctor of divinity degree by his new church with Certificate Number One. “This gives him legal authority to lecture, perform marriages, baptisms, and other religious rites,” he writes.

As Jon Atack explained to us previously, in April 1953 Hubbard had first proposed the idea of creating a church in a letter to Helen O’Brien, who had helped him organize the Philadelphia Doctorate Course the year before. At that time, Hubbard’s movement was at low ebb after Dianetics had been a brief craze in the summer of 1950. Things had gotten so bad, Hubbard had lost the use of the name Dianetics in bankruptcy. So, in 1952, he had started over again in Phoenix, creating something he called “Scientology.” But soon enough, those pesky FDA officials were making things difficult even as Hubbard promised that his great discoveries could cure just about anything.

So, in 1953, Hubbard asked O’Brien to start looking into “the religion angle.” After all, they had little to lose at that point…

In my opinion, we couldn’t get worse public opinion than we have had or have less customers with what we’ve got to sell. A religious charter would be necessary in Pennsylvania or N.J. to make it stick. But I sure could make it stick. ­­If we were to return there [to Phoenix] we’d be able to count 10 to 15 preclears per week at $500 for 24 hours processing. That is real money. I have seen it happen before. We get more preclears at $850 per week [counseling] intensive. Charge enough and we’d be swamped. We need that money. We should not long plan to have it siphoned away.

So, with the public against them and money in short supply, they rolled the dice and formed the three church entities in Camden on December 18.

A few months later, in February 1954, another Church of Scientology was created in Los Angeles by one of Hubbard’s followers. And here’s what Atack told us about that…

To distance himself, The Hub had Burton Farber register the “Church of Scientology of California” in Los Angeles a few months later, in February 1954, and subsequently claimed that it was not his idea (though the letter to O’Brien, which has been authenticated by the cult, shows that this was yet another fraud).

And so, between the letter to O’Brien and the reaction reported in The Aberree, we can see what Atack means when he says that Hubbard was actually very apprehensive about announcing that Scientology was attempting to turn the “modern science of mental health” into a religion.

Once he knew that he wouldn’t be drawn and quartered for launching a new religion, Hubbard then created the Founding Church in DC, and at the same time made himself The Founder. The idea was to oversee the religious outlets, while the Hubbard Association of Scientologists existed alongside, in case the material had to be quickly moved under that shell.

The “Founding Church” in Washington DC was created on July 4, 1955. But to this day, Scientology itself — and the media — dates the origin of the “Church of Scientology” to February 1954 in Los Angeles.

It’s true that the Church of Scientology of California (CSC) was for many years considered “the mother church.” And we assume there will be some hoopla in a couple of months when that date comes around again. But CSC is as dead as the Camden entities — Scientology went through a complex reorganization in the early 1980s that gave it a completely different corporate structure. CSC continued to exist on paper, but after paying nearly $9 million to finish a 16-year-old legal judgment in 2002, CSC was dissolved (we’ve seen the papers).

In February, you’ll no doubt see Scientology and the media write some stories about the church turning 60 years old. But we know that today is the real date.

And so here’s to you, Church of Scientology — happy diamond anniversary!


Posted by Tony Ortega on December 18, 2013 at 07:00

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