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10 things about Scientology now appearing in a Tampa Bay legal case

A lawsuit in Tampa federal court mentions many of the landmarks and practices that make the controversial church unique.
This photo from the L. Ron Hubbard Library shows Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, in the south of France in 1968.
This photo from the L. Ron Hubbard Library shows Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, in the south of France in 1968. [ Associated Press ]
Published May 19|Updated May 19

In April, three former members of Scientology’s full time workforce filed a federal lawsuit in Tampa alleging they were trafficked into the organization as children and prevented from leaving as adults. A Scientology spokesperson called the complaint “a sham and a scam.” But it offers a window into the world of Scientology, with its own system of ethics and long history in Clearwater. Here is a rundown of some facets of Scientology that appear in the suit:

Related: Former Scientologist called police. When that went nowhere, she sued.

Auditing

A Scientology E-Meter, used in church counseling.
A Scientology E-Meter, used in church counseling. [ Times (1998) ]

Refers to spiritual counseling, which is the central practice of the church. Scientology teaches that a so-called reactive mind is the source of all human pain and suffering, and can be erased by talking through memories and past traumas with an auditor. Parishioners must pay for auditing sessions, and it can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach a state of “clear” where the auditor declares the subject has erased the reactive mind. During these sessions, the auditor uses a device called an E-Meter and transcribes everything the subject says before storing the information indefinitely in folders called pre-clear or PC folders. Critics say auditing sessions can be abusive, sometimes lasting for hours and resembling interrogations. Defectors have also alleged the church has used information extracted during these sessions as blackmail.

Flag Land Base

The Flag Building, center, is at the heart of Scientology's Flag Land base in downtown Clearwater. Immediately to the west, toward Clearwater Harbor, is the church's Fort Harrison Hotel. [Times (2011)]
The Flag Building, center, is at the heart of Scientology's Flag Land base in downtown Clearwater. Immediately to the west, toward Clearwater Harbor, is the church's Fort Harrison Hotel. [Times (2011)]

The international spiritual headquarters in Clearwater. Scientology arrived in the city in 1975 and purchased the Fort Harrison Hotel and the old Clearwater Bank building under a fake name. Scientology was revealed to be the true buyer in January 1976. The religious campus has grown over the decades, with Scientology today owning 58 properties in Clearwater under its name, 49 of them downtown. Scientologists from all over the world travel to “Flag” to pay for courses and auditing that is not offered at any other church location.

The Freewinds

The Freewinds, pictured in 2014 in Aruba. [Courtesy of Roger Wollstadt]
The Freewinds, pictured in 2014 in Aruba. [Courtesy of Roger Wollstadt]

A 440-foot motor vessel that Scientology operates in the Caribbean to disseminate Operating Thetan Level VIII, the organization’s highest spiritual state. Parishioners cannot access counseling for this level anywhere else. The ship has been in operation since 1988 and ports in Curacao. Scientology’s website touts it as a “distraction-free environment for parishioners to study and experience the highest level of spiritual counseling available in the Scientology religion.” Former members have described the ship as a place where Sea Org workers have experienced mental, physical and sexual abuse and are forced to work excessively long hours running the ship for little or no pay.

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Fort Harrison Hotel

The Fort Harrison Hotel, at right, is connected to Scientology's Flag Building by an elevated walkway. [Times (2013)]
The Fort Harrison Hotel, at right, is connected to Scientology's Flag Building by an elevated walkway. [Times (2013)]

A 1926-era landmark that serves as the main hotel for parishioners visiting Flag from around the world. In late 1975, the Southern Land Development and Leasing Corp. bought the hotel and leased it to a group called United Churches of Florida. The entity was revealed to be the Church of Scientology a few months later. It was the end of hotel’s history as a hub for events, dining and tourists. Today the hotel serves as a religious retreat for parishioners and is not open to the public.

Sea Org

Scientology’s fulltime workforce. Members sign contracts to work for the religious order for 1 billion years. Sea Org members live communally and run every aspect of church operations, from landscaping to surveillance on perceived enemies. Former members have reported working 18-hour days, 7 days a week for $50 a week. Contact with outside family is limited and members reported having mail and phone calls monitored.

Commodore’s Messenger Organization

A unit within the Sea Org that caters to the needs of Scientology executives. Founder L. Ron Hubbard created the CMO in the late 1960s as a unit of children who ran messages for him. Many of these messengers were young girls who catered to Hubbard, from dressing to minor errands. Under Scientology leader David Miscavige, the CMO helps monitor daily operations in the Sea Org by providing reports to executives and tending to their daily chores. The unit helps relay directives between various Scientology entities.

Knowledge reports

Complaints parishioners write on each other to church officials. Members are directed to write “KRs” on misdeeds of fellow Scientologists or about information they come across that can be a threat to the church. The reports are placed in the offenders’ ethics files, which are kept indefinitely.

Ethics

Procedures Scientologists must follow to stay in good standing with the church. There are various ethics conditions that dictate a person’s status. Being placed in lower conditions, because of perceived misbehavior or failing to advance through counseling levels, can result in punishment like extreme interrogations or sleep deprivation. Ethics officers enforce these standards and deal with parishioners in various stages of ethics. Sea Org members who fail to meet statistical marks for their jobs or are accused of misdeeds can be sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force, a work camp-like punishment. There is a system of documentation for knowledge reports and other ethics files on each parishioner that is stored by the church indefinitely.

Disconnection

A practice that forbids contact with anyone the church brands a “suppressive person,’’ someone who falls out of favor with Scientology and is perceived as an enemy. Husbands can’t talk to wives, parents can’t see their children, friends must steer clear of friends. Failure to follow disconnection can result in being labeled a suppressive person, or an “SP.” Scientology denies that it forces its members to disconnect from others unwillingly.

David Miscavige

Scientology leader David Miscavige appears in a 2018 church video.
Scientology leader David Miscavige appears in a 2018 church video. [ YouTube ]

The 62-year-old leader of Scientology took over after the 1986 death of church founder L. Ron Hubbard. His rise to that role, at age 26, came during a turbulent time as Scientology wrestled with legal challenges, federal investigations and internal strife. Among faithful Scientologists, Miscavige is seen as a charismatic figure, hailed for securing the church’s tax-exempt status, modernizing its materials and pushing to build new churches around the world. Critics and many former Scientologists say he is prone to fits of temper that have often devolved into abuse, and that many of his directives have been harmful. He is known to be a friend of actor and longtime Scientologist Tom Cruise.

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