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High crimes and misdemeanors: Jefferson Hawkins on Scientology’s bizarre criminal code

CriminalCodeJefferson Hawkins was once the top marketing executive for the Church of Scientology and helped it reach its greatest extent with the famous “volcano” TV ads in the 1980s. He’s told his tale of getting into and out of the church with his excellent books Counterfeit Dreams and Leaving Scientology, and he’s helping us understand the upside-down world of Scientology “ethics.”

We’re really looking forward to this week’s episode in this series, Jeff. The notion of justice in Scientology is another strange one.

JEFFERSON: We’re getting towards the end of Introduction to Scientology Ethics now. This week we’ll be going over Chapter 11. It’s called “The Scientology Justice Codes and Their Application.” The bulk of the chapter consists of long, long lists of things that are considered offenses in Scientology.

In a sense, we’re coming full circle here. If you recall in the opening chapters of the book, Hubbard convinced us that the old definitions of ethics were invalid, and that the past history of the subject was only confusion and despair. The only solution, he insisted, was to learn Scientology’s principles of what is and is not “ethical.” Now, in this chapter, we get detailed lists of those things that are considered ethics offenses in Scientology. It gives us a very interesting look at what are considered the most serious transgressions in the world of Scientology.

THE BUNKER: Lay them on us.

JEFFERSON: Well, anyone who wants to get the full picture should read these lists in their entirety. There are literally hundreds of offenses listed, and it makes for a fascinating look into the mind of Scientology. There are four categories: “Errors,” “Misdemeanors,” “Crimes,” and “High Crimes” — which are also referred to as “Suppressive Acts.”


“Errors,” Hubbard tells us, are

…minor unintentional omissions or mistakes. These are auditing “goofs”; minor alter-is [alteration] of tech or policy; small instructional mistakes, minor errors or omissions in performing duties; and admin errors or omissions not resulting in financial loss or loss of status or repute for a senior.

THE BUNKER: So as long as you didn’t lose any money, you’re cool.

JEFFERSON: And as long as you didn’t get your senior in trouble. You see these themes repeating throughout these lists. You don’t want to be found losing money or harming the repute of seniors!

The next level up is “Misdemeanors.” Where he only listed five things as examples of errors, the Misdemeanor list is 47 items long. He starts out with

Discourtesy and insubordination.
Mistakes resulting in financial or traffic loss.
Commissions or omissions resulting in loss of status or the punishment of a senior.

And it continues in that vein through 47 items.

What you see right away is that Hubbard is confusing several things with these lists: a criminal code, a moral code, and a professional or business code of conduct. These lists use the terminology of a criminal code (misdemeanor, crime), but many of the listed items have to do with the pragmatic necessities of running an organization, which would be typical of a business professional code. Yet a real professional code would normally address points of ethical behavior towards the people one is serving, which these lists don’t address. In a Scientology organization, which is a very top-down, authoritarian organization, “ethical behavior” is not about fair or proper treatment of customers, it’s all about doing what you are told and toeing the line. Such things as not complying with orders, being insubordinate, or not doing your job are considered the most serious infractions. So being discourteous to your senior, for instance, is called a “misdemeanor.” Being discourteous to customers is not mentioned.

THE BUNKER: Misdemeanor is a strong word for being discourteous. We commonly think of misdemeanors as such things as petty theft, vandalism, public intoxication, simple assault, disorderly conduct, that sort of thing. So what does Scientology consider a crime?

JEFFERSON: The list of “Crimes” is even more extensive, 83 different items. It includes such things as:

Noncompliance with urgent and vital orders resulting in public disrepute.
Placing Scientology or Scientologists at risk.
Receiving auditing while a potential trouble source.
Inciting to insubordination.
Instigating a local power push against a senior.
Spreading destructive rumors about senior Scientologists.
Refusal to uphold discipline.
Overworking a senior by ignoring one’s duties.

Again we see the emphasis on offenses against the organization or seniors, rather than unfair or abusive treatment of staff or customers. It’s all about keeping people in line and protecting the organization. So this is the more serious stuff, but not the ultimate transgressions, which are High Crimes or Suppressive Acts.

THE BUNKER: The things that can get you declared SP! Tell us about that list.

JEFFERSON: The final list is 129 items, all things that can get you declared. The interesting thing about this list is that it kept growing over the years. Hubbard would announce that this or that action is now a High Crime, and it would get added to the list. At one point he stated that any violation of the ten points of Keeping Scientology Working was a High Crime. One of those points is “knowing [the technology] is correct.” So if you don’t know that Scientology technology is correct, you’re guilty of a Suppressive Act! All sorts of odd things got added to the list in this way. If a Course Supervisor does not muster his students in the morning, for instance, that’s now a High Crime. If you go past a word you don’t understand, that’s a High Crime.

THE BUNKER: Looks like quite a laundry list. But doesn’t it also contain things like speaking out against Scientology? That’s what people are usually declared for.

JEFFERSON: Yes, it has a lot of those sorts of things:

Public disavowal of Scientology or Scientologists in good standing with Scientology Organizations
Public statements against Scientology or Scientologists but not to Committees of Evidence duly convened.
Testifying hostilely before state or public inquiries into Scientology to suppress it.
Bringing civil suit against any Scientology organization or Scientologist…
Demanding the return of any or all donations made…
Writing anti-Scientology letters to the press or giving anti-Scientology or anti-Scientologist data to the press.
Failure to handle or disavow and disconnect from a person demonstrably guilty of suppressive acts.
Publicly departing Scientology.

And so on. So the highest and most serious “crimes” in Scientology have to do with leaving Scientology, speaking out against it, testifying about it to any inquiry, filing suit against Scientology and so forth. I think anyone can see that this is a very, very self-serving “ethics code.” It’s designed to protect the organization from exposure by insiders or former insiders. It gives a picture of an organization with a lot to hide.
As I mentioned earlier, these lists are supposed to be Scientology’s “justice codes,” but are really a conflation of several different things: a criminal or penal code, a general moral code, and the professional code of a company or profession. And it falls short of really fully being any of those things. As a criminal code, it uses the terminology of a penal code (misdemeanor, crime), but omits many things that should be in those categories — murder, rape, extortion, fraud, assault — and also specifically forbids reporting any crimes to authorities outside the church. As a moral code, it fails to give any real sense of moral compass, and as a professional code of conduct, it does everything to protect the church and its senior officials and nothing to protect their customers or staff — which is the normal function of a professional ethics code.

One way to look at these lists is to work out what’s missing. Here’s just a partial list of offenses that are noticeably omitted from these lists, yet based on Scientology’s history, should be included in any real list of offenses:

Defrauding the public.
Lying to members, the public, or the press.
Covering up crimes committed by the organization.
Failure to report crimes committed by members of the organization to the authorities.
Charging the public to correct organizational mistakes.
Illegally charging credit cards without authorization.
Breaking up families.
Pressuring or forcing women to have abortions.
Failure to give good service.
Abusing staff under your care.
Failure to ensure staff have good health care.
Overworking staff or denying them food or sleep.
Physically assaulting staff members.

And so on. I’m sure people can think of many more.

THE BUNKER: Now that’s a powerful list.


Posted by Tony Ortega on January 16, 2014 at 07:00

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