None of the ethics policies of the Church of Scientology can be regarded as being against the laws of a democratic country.
by Massimo Introvigne
This series has examined three crucial aspects of the ethics of Scientology: the distinction between its internal ecclesiastical courts and its relationship with secular justice; the fair game policy; and the policy asking Scientologists to “disconnect” from those non-Scientologists who have been declared “suppressive persons.”
In conclusion, I would argue that nothing in these three sets of practices can be regarded as illegal under the laws of any democratic country respectful of the principle of freedom of religion or belief. What can be illegal may be the behavior of individual Scientologists who breach the laws of their countries. However, they do so not in furtherance of, but against what they have been taught by Scientology. The Church of Scientology is a large group, and no human organization is composed of saints only. As it happens in all other religions, there are those who disregard the official teachings and commit crimes. Of these crimes, however, the religions are not responsible.
In a democratic country, the state or secular courts have no business in interfering with the internal judicial system of a religion, be it Catholic Canon Law or the ethics system of Scientology. Interference is prohibited by international principles of freedom of religion or belief, as courts in several countries have consistently affirmed. The religious liberty of those Scientology parishioners who do not like how the judicial committees of their religion function is not violated, as they remain free to leave Scientology, join another religion, or establish a new church.
As for the relationships between Scientologists and secular courts, there are texts by Hubbard criticizing those non-Scientologists who denounce Scientologists with the devious aim of destroying Scientology. They are included among the suppressive persons. What these texts do not say, however, is that Scientologists should not report crimes committed by co-religionists when such reports are mandated by the law. Hubbard was always careful to punctuate all statements on ethics with the caveat that the laws of the land should always be respected. Again, if some individual Scientologists did not respect the laws on mandatory reports of crimes they did so against their church’s teachings.
The “fair game policy” was introduced by Hubbard in 1965 and cancelled in 1968. Critics continue to call “fair game” any activity by Scientology in response to hostility and harassment, because “fair game” immediately suggests something sinister and illegal. However, not only the policy has not been in force in Scientology in the last 54 years, but in its 1965 formulation it stated that those who had tried to destroy Scientology and had been abused by Scientologists in retaliation cannot find redress from Scientology’s internal Ethical Committees. It did not say that illegal actions should not be punished by secular courts, and all Scientology documents that mentioned fair game insisted that Scientologists should respect the law of the land in all cases.
The non-Scientologists (who may be ex-Scientologists) who try to destroy Scientology are declared “suppressive persons.” Those Scientologists who continue to associate with their friends and relatives who have been declared “suppressive persons” are called “potential trouble sources.” After a process in which the policy was introduced, cancelled, then introduced again, Hubbard concluded that Scientology could not function properly if the potential trouble sources continued to be in touch and be influenced by the suppressive person. The policy of disconnection mandates that Scientologists in good standing should “disconnect,” i.e., cease to associate with their friends or relatives who have been identified as suppressive persons.
Is this illegal? Happily, there is a vast corpus of court decisions in several jurisdictions, including the U.S. and Canadian Supreme Courts, and courts in Italy, Belgium, Germany and other countries on a similar but not identical policy, the so-called shunning or ostracism practiced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter teach that members in good standing should cease any association with those who have been expelled (disfellowshipped) or have formally left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with the sole exception of cohabiting relatives. This policy has a larger scope than disconnection in Scientology. Jehovah’s Witnesses should cease their association with all those who have formally left the faith (as opposite to simply becoming inactive) or have been disfellowshipped, which happens because of serious transgressions, even if these ex-members are not exhibiting any hostility towards their former religion. Scientologists are requested to disconnect only from those who have been declared suppressive, i.e., those who are militantly hostile to Scientology and “try to destroy” it.
Given this larger scope of the shunning policy among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the legal decisions declaring that the policy is not illegal and is protected by the principle of freedom of religion are relevant precedents also for disconnection as practiced by Scientology. The scope of the two policies is different, but the rationale for protecting them is the same.
Basically, the courts that have declared Jehovah’s Witnesses’s shunning not illegal have relied on three arguments. First, shunning is a religious practice based on theological principles that the Jehovah’s Witnesses regard as essential. Freedom of religion or belief prevents secular courts from second-guessing or reinterpreting the Jehovah’s Witnesses theology, or interfere with their religious practices.
Second, those who are disfellowshipped or subject to shunning often complain to secular courts that their religious liberty to continue to be part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been violated. Courts have consistently answered that there is no right to be part of a religious organization whose doctrines one no longer agrees with. The religious liberty of the disfellowshipped or shunned members is not denied, as nothing prevents them to join or establish a separate religion with different practices.
Third, courts have observed that they do not have the power to compel citizens to associate with certain persons they no longer want to see. Ex-spouses and their closest friends or relatives often “shun” their former husbands or wives. Courts of law cannot compel them to behave otherwise, nor can secular judges compel Jehovah’s Witnesses to continue their associations with relatives or friends who have left the faith.
Obviously, all the three arguments also apply to disconnection as practiced by the Church of Scientology. Hubbard’s statement that citizens of a free country have both the right to communicate and not to communicate has been vindicated in dozen of court cases about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policy of shunning.