Scientology: Origins, celebrities and holdings

Scientology, which was established in Los Angeles in 1954, describes itself as the handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others, and all of life. Following are details about Scientology's beliefs and history.

In Scientology, a person is an immortal spiritual being — a "thetan" from the Greek letter "theta," meaning "spirit" — who has a body and a mind and lives on from lifetime to lifetime. By following Scientology practices, a person can achieve spiritual awareness.

Scientologists believe that the "reactive mind,'' the part that works on a stimulus-response basis — not under the individual's control — commands one's awareness, purposes, thoughts, body and action.

A Scientology timeline

Following is a timeline of Scientology's history:

May 1950: L. Ron Hubbard's book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, is published.

1954 : The first Church of Scientology opens in Los Angeles.

Late 1975: The Southern Land Development and Leasing Corp. buys the Fort Harrison Hotel and old Bank of Clearwater in downtown, and leases it to a secretive group called United Churches of Florida.

Jan. 28, 1976: It's announced that Scientology is the real buyer of the Fort Harrison Hotel.

1977: Scientology files the first of many lawsuits contesting its Pinellas County property tax bill. In Washington and Los Angeles, federal agents raid Scientology offices. According to FBI files, Scientologists arrived in Clearwater with plans to control civic leaders and discredit critics. The files also reveal that Scientologists staged a phony hit-and-run accident with Clearwater Mayor Gabe Cazares in an attempt to discredit him.

October 1979: Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue, and 10 other church staffers are convicted of conspiring to steal federal government documents and cover it up.

December 1979: An estimated 3,000 gather at Clearwater City Hall to protest the church coming to Clearwater. Across the street, Scientologists stage a counter rally, dressed as clowns and wearing animal costumes.

Jan. 24, 1986: L. Ron Hubbard dies of a stroke at his ranch in California. He was 74. The honor of announcing his death falls to David Miscavige, who delivers the news to Scientologists at the Hollywood Palladium. Miscavige says Hubbard's body "had ceased to be useful, and had in fact become an impediment'' to the important work he has left. "The being we knew as L. Ron Hubbard still exists.''

May 1987: Establishing himself as church leader, Miscavige becomes Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center, which owns the religious trademarks of Dianetics and Scientology.

Feb. 14, 1992: David Miscavige sits for his only television interview, with ABC's Nightline, hosted by Ted Koppel.

October 1993: The IRS recognizes Scientology as a tax-exempt church, settling a 40-year battle. It's a monumental victory for Scientology, not only for untold millions of dollars in taxes it would save, but for legitimizing it as a religion. The New York Times story announcing the settlement identifies Marty Rathbun as "president of a Scientology organization'' that got the exemption and quotes him in the second paragraph: "This puts an end to what has been an historic war. It's like the Palestinians and the Israelis shaking hands.''

October 2004: Tom Cruise receives Scientology's Freedom Medal of Valor. Cruise effusively praises David Miscavige.

MARCH 2007: The BBC program Panorama was preparing an expose on Scientology when reporter John Sweeney confronted Mike Rinder in London and repeatedly asked if Miscavige ever hit anyone, including Rinder.

Rinder, far left, repeatedly called the allegations "rubbish" and "absolutely false, totally and utterly" and accused the reporter of ambushing him.

During filming for the same documentary, a church spokesman interrupted a Sweeney interview and the reporter exploded, an outburst a Scientology videographer caught on tape. Sweeney apologized and said he looked like an "exploding tomato.''

Scientology celebrities

Scientology loves its celebrities. The Manor Hotel, built in Hollywood in 1929 and restored in 1992, is the home of the church's Celebrity Centre International.

In the 1930s and '40s the hotel was home to, among others, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Clark Gable.

Today, the church says, the manor at 5930 Franklin Ave. caters to "the artists, politicians, leaders of industry, sports figures and anyone with the power and vision to create a better world.''

Following are some of the church's most prominent current celebrities.

Tom Cruise: The actor is probably Scientology's best known, most fervent supporter. In 2004, Miscavige presented Cruise with the church's first Freedom Medal of Valor and called him "the most dedicated Scientologist I know." When Cruise married Katie Holmes in 2006, People magazine said "the best man was Cruise's best friend, David Miscavige.'' And who audited Tom Cruise? Marty Rathbun says that Miscavige entrusted him with that task.

John Travolta: He reportedly attributes his career success in large part to Scientology. After he began auditing sessions in the mid-1970s, he landed a lead role on the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter. He starred in Battlefield Earth, a movie based on a work of science fiction by L. Ron Hubbard. Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, come to Clearwater often. In March 2007, hundreds turned out to see the couple at the grand opening of the Scientology Life Improvement Center of St. Petersburg.

Chick Corea: The pianist posed at the Fort Harrison Hotel before he played at the 2002 Clearwater Jazz Festival.

Other famous Scientologists: Kirstie Alley, Anne Archer, Beck, Jenna Elfman, Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Jason Lee, Elisabeth Moss, Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, Giovanni Ribisi, Greta Van Susteren.

A Scientology glossary

Out tech

Anything that diverges from what Scientologists believe is standard Hubbard doctrine.

Clear

A "highly desirable state" in which a person, through auditing, gets rid of all the interference from troubling memories buried in the subconscious, or "reactive mind.''

RPF

Short for Rehabilitation Project Force. Scientologists describe it as a "second chance'' program that offers "redemption rather than dismissal'' for members deemed to have committed serious offenses. Those in RPF receive intense religious counseling and must perform manual labor. The program reportedly can last months or even years.

Sea Org

Short for Sea Organization, a religious order for those who dedicate their lives to the service of Scientology. Paid $75 a week plus meals, lodging and medical care, members sign a 1 billion year contract, to symbolize their commitment to serve in this life and the next ones. The Sea Org was developed when Scientology was largely based on ships, hence the name, and the maritime ranks.

Suppressive person, or SP

A Scientologist who "works to upset, continuously undermine, spread bad news and denigrate other people and their activities.'' Often applied to a member who speaks ill of the church. An SP cannot have contact with other Scientologists, even family.

Auditing

"Helps an individual look at his own existence and improves his ability to confront what he is and where he is.'' The auditor asks questions and uses a device called an e-meter that is said to measure the person's reaction, allowing the auditor to locate areas of distress.

Fair game

A Hubbard policy that says church enemies "may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist;'' and that the person "may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.'' Hubbard canceled the policy in 1968, but critics say the church still uses it to justify harassment of opponents.

Flag

The Flag Service Organization in Clearwater is the worldwide spiritual headquarters for Scientologists. The highest ecclesiastical organizations used to be aboard a flotilla of ships, and Hubbard's home, the Apollo, was the "flagship" of the flotilla, "Flag" for short. In 1975, those operations moved to Clearwater, which is why it is still called Flag.

Introspection Rundown

A Scientology procedure Hubbard devised to calm a person in the throes of psychosis. The person is isolated and not spoken to except for frequent auditing.

Scientology's properties

The church owns a staggering array of properties, from a college on 55 acres in England to a luxury cruise ship. The church often buys historic buildings and refurbishes them in grand fashion.

The Base: The 500-acre "Int'' base is in an arid area 80 miles east of Los Angeles. It's home to top church executives, including David Miscavige, and Golden Era Productions, the church's media and publications division.

Hollywood, Calif.: Scientology owns buildings in and around Hollywood, including this office building, which features a ground-floor museum, and the Celebrity Centre International, a restored hotel where celebrities study and receive Scientology counseling in a "distraction-free'' environment.

The Fort Harrison: The church put $40 million into lavishly renovating the 82-year-old hotel, including the grand lobby. Scientologists from around the world come to Clearwater, the church's spiritual mecca.

The Flag Building: Across from the hotel, the "Super Power'' building has sat vacant and unfinished for six years. It eventually will have 300 rooms for the church's core practice of auditing. It's to be the only place in the world where a classified program called Super Power will be offered, thus the nickname.

The 'Freewinds': Scientology uses its cruise ship as a religious retreat and for recreation. The highest level of Scientology auditing, OT VIII, is offered exclusively on the ship.

Sussex, England: The Saint Hill College for Scientologists, also called Saint Hill Castle, is on 55 acres of rolling hills outside Sussex. Church founder L. Ron Hubbard lived and worked at nearby Saint Hill Manor from 1959 to 1966.

INDEX: The truth rundown, a special report on the Church of Scientology

The story on this page is part of a special report from the St. Petersburg Times and its Web site, tampabay.com. Here is an index to the report.

Main Web page: Scientology: The truth rundown

Video: Defectors Marty Rathbun and Amy Scobee

Scientology responds

David Miscavige, Lisa McPherson

Three-part series from the St. Petersburg Times

Part 1: Scientology: The truth rundown

Scientology's response

David Miscavige's letter

David Miscavige bio and bios of defectors

Scientology: Origins, Tom Cruise and other celebrities, holdings, glossary

Part 2: Death in slow motion

Lisa McPherson case: events leading to her death

Part 3: Scientology: Ecclesiastical justice

Leaving the Church of Scientology: a huge step

Previous St. Petersburg Times coverage of Scientology:

From the Times archives, including the 1979 Pulitzer-winning coverage

More recent stories

Scientology: Origins, celebrities and holdings 06/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 1:23pm]

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