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How a police raid in Detroit prompted the creation of the Church of Scientology

[Early Scientology had several raids, including the FDA in 1963, pictured]

The Bunker marked the auspicious 70th anniversary of the Church of Scientology yesterday with birthday wishes from its contributors. Today, historian Chris Owen brings us the previously unreported story of the events that prompted L. Ron Hubbard to take the momentous step of declaring Scientology to be a religion.

For a man who was so concerned with the ‘reactive mind,’ L. Ron Hubbard’s decision-making was itself remarkably reactive. Again and again through his career as the founder of Dianetics and Scientology, he took far-reaching decisions in reaction to things that were happening at the time. Few, however, were more impactful than his decision to declare Scientology to be a religion on December 18, 1953. But what prompted it?

Scientology had been launched in April 1952, at a point when Hubbard had temporarily lost the rights to Dianetics to Wichita businessman Don Purcell in bankruptcy proceedings. Having established the Hubbard Association of Scientologists in Phoenix, Arizona, he established offshoots in Camden, New Jersey and London in England, as well as franchises in a number of other locations. One such was in Detroit, Michigan, where a ‘Dianetics and Scientology School’ was being run by Earl Cunard and Rita Postel.

At the time, Hubbard was very explicit about Dianetics and Scientology being healing practices. In his original 1950 book on Dianetics, Hubbard wrote: “Psychosomatic ills such as arthritis, migraine, ulcers, allergies, asthma, coronary difficulties (psychosomatic — about one-third of all heart trouble cases), tendonitis, bursitis, paralysis (hysterical), eye trouble (non-pathological) have all responded …. without failure” to Dianetic therapy.

Such claims were continued into early Scientology. Although Scientology’s doctrines were more metaphysical than those of Dianetics, Hubbard still made sweeping claims about its ability to relieve medical conditions. When he began awarding “Doctorates of Scientology” to his followers, applicants for such a doctorate were required to submit a paper “demonstrating his application of Scientology to one particular illness and proving Scientology as efficacious on that illness.”


This was a risky thing to do. Many of those attracted to Dianetics and Scientology came looking for solutions to physical or psychological problems — anything from depression to marital difficulties to cancer. Inevitably, many were disappointed when the promised solutions failed to materialize and complained to local law enforcement agencies, medical authorities, and consumer organizations. It was inevitable that the authorities would take an interest, as many jurisdictions took a dim view of people making false medical claims.

The first such threat came with a January 1951 lawsuit filed by the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners against the original Dianetic Foundation. A prosecution had been avoided in that instance when the Foundation moved to Kansas. Two years later, however, Scientology’s franchise in Detroit became the subject of the first successful prosecution of a Scientology operation.

On March 26, 1953, Detroit police raided the city’s Dianetics and Scientology School and arrested its two staff, Cunard and Postel. The ‘school,’ which had been established the previous year, was evidently quite a profitable operation. It reportedly had 50 ‘students’ and made $1,500 a month, equivalent to about $25,500 now.

Cunard and Postel had made extravagant healing claims that led to a complaint from the city’s Board of Health. Nine police officers conducted an investigation that included two policemen going undercover and posing as Dianetics students for two weeks to gather evidence. After their colleagues moved in to make the arrests, the two staff members were charged with conspiracy and with practicing medicine and operating a vocational school without a license.

The first two charges were eventually dropped by the prosecutor, but the pair were convicted on the latter charge. They were fined $50 and sentenced to two years of probation, with the court ordering them to stay out of the healing business or go to prison. The police regarded the outcome as a failure and were particularly disappointed by the lack of support from the American Medical Association and the local Wayne County Medical Society, who would not back them up on the illegal medical practice charge. The Medical Society did write to the AMA’s Bureau of Investigation to pass on a police request for information, but it is not clear if there was any response from the AMA.

Hubbard reacted furiously and took pains to emphasize to his followers that “the fight is about RUNNING A SCHOOL WITHOUT A LICENSE, not about Dianetics or Scientology, no matter what the papers are printing.” He blamed the Detroit school’s operators for failing to get their licensing situation in order, and claimed falsely that bills against Dianetics and Scientology “have now been defeated in EIGHTEEN STATE LEGISLATURES in three years.” (No such bill is known to have been proposed in any jurisdiction.)

After the convictions were announced, he put a brave face on the situation with the claim that “the cops got bit in the form of an increased interest [in Scientology] in Michigan like you never saw before.” He explained that the Detroit Police Department’s interest in Scientology was due to it being “a hotbed of communism.”

The Detroit case contributed to Hubbard taking one of the most consequential decisions of his career as Scientology’s leader. Two weeks after the police raid, he sent a letter to Helen O’Brien, who was then managing the Philadelphia Scientology org. He complained about his lack of resources for fighting threats to Scientology and wrote: “If you think Detroit would occur or continue to be if I had a couple thousand, think again – newspapers are for sale in any direction, not just to the AMA. And I can’t even support a press agent!”

Hubbard told O’Brien that aimed to establish a facility that would function as a clinic “in operation but not in name,” suggesting that it should instead be called a “Spiritual Guidance Center” or something similar. He asked her advice on “the religion angle,” as “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 NJ to make it stick. But I sure could make it stick.”

His approach was somewhat conflicted: his letter referred to the new clinic providing treatment through Scientology, suggesting that he had not yet given up on the idea of providing medical assistance through Scientology auditing. Hubbard later acknowledged that some would consider that by converting itself into a religion, “it would seem that Scientology is simply making itself bulletproof in the eyes of the law.”

However, as he put it in his letter to O’Brien, it was a “problem of practical business.” It offered irresistible advantages – tax exemption, better marketability and greater legal protection. He had written in 1950 that Dianetics “needs about as much licensing and regulation as the application of the science of physics. Those things which are legislated against are a matter of law because they may in some way injure individuals or society.” By the time he wrote to O’Brien, he had evidently decided that the best way forward was to move Scientology into a realm where he believed it would not be regulated at all.

In December 1953 Hubbard incorporated the Church of Scientology, the Church of American Science, and the Church of Spiritual Engineering in New Jersey. The latter two other corporations seem to have gone unused. Their creation may indicate that Hubbard was keeping his options open about whether to adopt a religious identity for Scientology, or perhaps saw them as fallback options in case the creation of the Church of Scientology attracted too much opposition from his followers.

One of Hubbard’s subordinates established the Church of Scientology of California in February 1954 and a “Founding Church of Scientology” was established in Washington, D.C. in 1955. Hubbard also urged Scientology franchises worldwide to convert themselves into churches. The Washington franchise became the worldwide headquarters of Scientology for a time after 1955. According to the Church itself, this was because Hubbard regarded it as being safer legally for Scientology’s headquarters to be under Federal rather than State jurisdiction.

While he viewed a religious designation as a “problem of practical business” that would achieve the aim of “knock[ing] psychotherapy into history” and keep his organisation solvent, Hubbard also identified a doctrinal justification: “We’re treating the present time beingness, psychotherapy treats the past and the brain. And brother, that’s religion, not mental science.”


Shortly after establishing the three church corporations, he presented Scientology as being a fusion of science and religion: “[I]t gives us little choice but to announce to a world, no matter how it receives it, that nuclear physics and religion have joined hands and that we in Scientology perform those miracles for which Man through all his search has hoped.”

He justified the move in similar terms in a message to Scientologists the following year, when he told them that Scientology fully deserved the label of a religion because any religion is “basically a philosophic teaching designed to better the civilisation into which it is taught.” On that basis, he wrote, “a Scientologist has a better right to call himself a priest, a minister, a missionary, a doctor of divinity, a faith healer or a preacher than any other man who bears the insignia of ‘religion’ of the Western world.”

He also noted the practical advantages: “Amongst them is that a society accords to men of the ‘church’ an access not given to others. Prisons, hospitals, and institutions, and those who manage them, cannot do otherwise than welcome men of the ‘church’.”

It was perhaps significant that he put the word ‘church’ in inverted commas, suggesting that he saw the designation as merely a flag of convenience. Indeed, in jurisdictions where religious affiliation was not seen as so important – such as Australia – Scientology continued to claim secular status until as late as the mid-1960s.

Another clue that Scientology’s self-proclaimed religious status was merely nominal is provided by the fact that its practitioners continued to promote it as a science – rather than a religion – capable of healing physical ailments. One typical example was Clem W. Johnson, the operator of a Scientology franchise in Orlando, Florida, who wrote to a prospective client in November 1954 to claim that using Scientology, “any disease or illnesses that you now have, will just vanish through processing.”

He cited several examples of supposed miracle cures: his wife’s hair had turned from “completely gray to only about one third as much now,” a woman’s diseased kidney had been saved, a man with severe arthritis was now “standing straight,” a deaf boy was able to hear after only forty minutes of processing, and a woman who had been completely blind for 37 years was seeing “flashes of light” during processing. Johnson wrote: “She is sure she will be seeing again within a few more weeks. She plans to return home before Christmas with her sight. We believe she will too.”

The Scientology organizations under Hubbard’s direct control were more discreet, but likewise still focused on advertising Scientology’s benefits for individual wellbeing. Their advertisements offered to “fit you for better jobs, better pay and increase your ability” (making no mention of religion) or “make you more able, physically, mentally, spiritually.”.

Such claims were bound to get Scientology into trouble with the authorities. Sure enough, Hubbard soon found that claiming religious status did not immunise Scientology and its members from prosecution for making false medical claims. Public agencies around the United States launched investigations of Scientology, prompted in some cases by complaints from members of the public and medical organisations.

Eventually, this led to Hubbard making another reactive decision that ended in disaster: to respond in kind, as he saw it, and retaliate against the government agencies, medical bodies, and individuals whom he saw as threats to Scientology. But that’s another story.

— Chris Owen


Technology Cocktail

“Clay Table work separates the experts and amateurs like a gourmet would separate sour wine and champagne. With sour basic auditing, it just doesn’t satisfy what’s required. I think letting students putter about with Clay even on Scientology definitions before they are Class Is at least is a horrible mistake. Every consistently done Clay Table goofing I’ve seen so far showed up an auditor who just didn’t know his auditing cycle and couldn’t get that done, much less CT Clearing. CT Clearing not only can be done. It Clears. If done.” — L. Ron Hubbard, 1964




We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links as Danny faces a potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison. NOW WITH TRIAL INDEX.


THE PODCAST: How many have you heard?

[1] Marc Headley [2] Claire Headley [3] Jeffrey Augustine [4] Bruce Hines [5] Sunny Pereira [6] Pete Griffiths [7] Geoff Levin [8] Patty Moher [9] Marc Headley [10] Jefferson Hawkins [11] Michelle ‘Emma’ Ryan [12] Paulette Cooper [13] Jesse Prince [14] Mark Bunker [15] Jon Atack [16] Mirriam Francis [17] Bruce Hines on MSH

— SPECIAL: The best TV show on Scientology you never got to see

[1] Phil Jones [2] Derek Bloch [3] Carol Nyburg [4] Katrina Reyes [5] Jamie DeWolf

— The first Danny Masterson trial and beyond

[18] Trial special with Chris Shelton [19] Trial week one [20] Marc Headley on the spy in the hallway [21] Trial week two [22] Trial week three [23] Trial week four [24] Leah Remini on LAPD Corruption [25] Mike Rinder 2022 Thanksgiving Special [26] Jane Doe 4 (Tricia Vessey), Part One [27] Jane Doe 4 (Tricia Vessey), Part Two [28] Claire Headley on the trial [29] Tory Christman [30] Bruce Hines on spying [31] Karen de la Carriere [32] Ron Miscavige on Shelly Miscavige [33] Karen de la Carriere on the L’s [34] Mark Bunker on Miscavige hiding [35] Mark Plummer [36] Mark Ebner [37] Karen Pressley [38] Steve Cannane [39] Fredrick Brennan [40] Clarissa Adams [41] Louise Shekter [42] John Sweeney [43] Tory Christman [44] Kate Bornstein [45] Christian Stolte [46] Mark Bunker [47] Jon Atack [48] Luke Y. Thompson [49] Mark Ebner [50] Bruce Hines [51] Spanky Taylor and Karen Pressley [51] Geoff and Robbie Levin [52] Sands Hall [53] Jonny Jacobsen [54] Sandy Holeman



Source Code

“There’s a fellow by the name of Einstein passed some laws relating to the speed of light. And you get up to the speed of light, I understand, and you stop right there. And I hope that they don’t hear about this out in the outer planets there, because they’d have to drop those speedometers off. Because these boys going two or three times the speed of light there, as they just start to travel, would be embarrassed if they knew they couldn’t do that. And so somebody’d better inform them before they’re embarrassed by having this discovered about themselves.” — L. Ron Hubbard, December 19, 1953


Avast, Ye Mateys

“The Port Anchor Chain was not washed and mud is reported in the chain locker. This should be run out and cleaned up properly.” — The Commodore, December 19, 1969


Overheard in the FreeZone

“The MEST universe is basically a theta trap. So some OT abilities does not work until you’re inside a meat body.”


Past is Prologue


1996: Ted Mayett called the phone number formerly answered by the Cult Awareness Network. “I dialed the number listed on this page. Some guy answered. I told him I’m looking at a web page right now and that some guy named Larry Wiley said to call this number. I then asked him if this was also scientology? he said yes. I then used the approach I most always use with them. Told him, ‘thanks for your time, I see a scientology right here in Vegas, I’ll get information there.’ They *always* say ‘wait a moment, can I get your address?’ I then give them my real name and address. This time he said I’m already in the computer, after typing a bit. So. I did not suspect they were computerized. And, they no longer ask for your phone number which means they have it in front of them.”


Random Howdy

“The comments sections on the CCHR vids on YouTube are this uber weird mix of Scientologists and the mentally ill who gravitate to this bullshit because it justifies them not taking their meds. It makes for some very unusual reading.”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Found guilty on two counts on May 31, remanded to custody. Sentenced to 30 years to life on Sep 7.
‘Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’ (a/k/a Justin Craig), aggravated assault, plus drug charges: Grand jury indictments include charges from an assault while in custody. Next pretrial hearing January 29, 2024.
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud.

Civil litigation:
Leah Remini v. Scientology, alleging ‘Fair Game’ harassment and defamation: Complaint filed August 2, motion to strike/anti-SLAPP motions by Scientology to be heard January 9, 2024.
Baxter, Baxter, and Paris v. Scientology, alleging labor trafficking: Forced to arbitration. Plaintiffs allowed interlocutory appeal to Eleventh Circuit.
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: Discovery phase.
Jane Doe 1 v. Scientology, David Miscavige, and Gavin Potter: Case unsealed and second amended complaint filed. Scientology moves for religious arbitration.
Chiropractors Steve Peyroux and Brent Detelich, stem cell fraud: Ordered to mediation.



After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society. Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in a weekly series. How many have you read?


[ONE year ago] VIDEO: If Danny Masterson had testified about ‘DJ Donkey Punch’
[TWO years ago] Reactions to our insider’s claim Scientology in pandemic chaos: It rings true, experts say
[THREE years ago] Secrets of Scientology ‘Super Power’: The best testimonial we’ve seen yet
[FOUR years ago] ‘Have you got a head?’ — Listen in to Scientology as a wacky group experience
[FIVE years ago] Scientology threatened to sue over last night’s episode, settled for sliming Leah & Mike instead
[SIX years ago] KID CORPS: Scientology wanted cadets as young as 6 dealing out justice to each other
[SEVEN years ago] Live-blogging Leah Remini’s special episode tonight: Get a load of these miscreants!
[EIGHT years ago] Witness: Compton scam rehab was a special Scientology project — how high does it go?
[NINE years ago] Scientology’s Craigslist expert issues new instructions after so much ad flagging
[TEN years ago] How Scientology ‘ethics’ creates your very own Truman Show
[ELEVEN years ago] L. Ron Hubbard’s “Secret Lives” — A Channel 4 Classic


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 3,248 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 3,763 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 3,313 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 2,303 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 2,184 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 5,488 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 3,359 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,911 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 4,253 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,819 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 8,738 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 4,906 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 4,487 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 4,748 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 3,784 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 3,500 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 3,064 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 1,379 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 2,554 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 7,105 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 4,236 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 4,574 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 9,429 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 4,548 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 2,904 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 7,207 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 3,313 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 3,711 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 3,587 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 3,152 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 3,665 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,919 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 15,028 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on December 19, 2023 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2022 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2022), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists | GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice | SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts | Shelly Miscavige, 15 years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Tony Ortega at The Daily Beast


Tony Ortega at Rolling Stone


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