Column: The well-deserved decline of Scientology

In this Jan. 14, 2014 file photo, Leah Remini arrives at the 2014 UNICEF Ball in Beverly Hills, Calif. Remini is talking about Scientology and Tom Cruise in a new interview with ABC’s “20/20.” The actress says in a clip released Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, that “Being critical of Tom Cruise is being critical of Scientology itself. (AP)

Tonight, actress Leah Remini, known predominately for her lead role on the show “King of Queens,” will be featured on ABC’s “20/20,” where she will be discussing the acrimonious dissolution of her relationship with the Church of Scientology. She was a member for 30 years.

Concurrently, a court in The Hague, Netherlands recently revoked the church’s status as a tax-exempt organization, citing its auditing courses – which ostensibly rid the participant of body thetans (invisible spirits that travelled to Earth and were subsequently blown up in volcanoes in Hawaii 75 million years ago by an evil galactic overlord named Xenu) – as egregiously expensive, much more than secular courses which offer a similar therapeutic value (at least initially).

This comes as a bit of a shock, considering the fight the organization has been known to put up for tax-related predicaments. In the United States, the group fought the state of California and ultimately the IRS from 1967 to 1993 to claim its tax-exempt status today. Court documents revealed the church had grandiose plans to infiltrate and suppress government agencies in their investigations, leading to the incarcerations of several high-ranking members for wiretapping the office of the IRS.

Incidents like that in Holland are indicative of an organization in steep decline. In addition, the numbers of members are dwindling. While the church itself said in a 2012 ad that it courts 4.4 million new Scientologists worldwide each year, censuses and other testimony are a little more telling. Sea Org, essentially the church’s military-esque parish – touts only 6,500 members. 2011 censuses in Australia and the United Kingdom reveal 2,163 and 1,781 members, respectively. It is clear Scientology is not the behemoth it once was.

There isn’t just baseless defecting, though. Everyone that’s departed, from B-list actresses in ‘90s Kevin Smith films to B-list actresses married to Tom Cruise, has cited oppressive tactics designed to inspire devout obedience to the church at all costs.

In the former instance, Carmen Llwelyn was married to Jason Earl, of “My Name is Earl” fame, for about 10 years. A prerequisite of their marrying was that Carmen join the church at Jason’s behest. She took classes and went to audits for many years, and eventually she read a book by a former Scientologist, describing the more insidious facets of the religion. When she expressed concerns about it to her husband and friends at the church, she promptly received “disconnection letters,” one culminating a decade’s worth of marriage. It’s assumed Llwelyn was then deemed a “suppressive person,” or an enemy of the church.

After receiving the moniker, a suppressive person (SP) becomes “fair game,” which entitles the congregation or any Scientology administrator to ruin the life of said SP. A 1967 publication from the Hubbard (L. Ron, founder of the religion and a science fiction writer) states a person labeled fair game “may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”

Llwelyn was no exception to this rule. She was followed, people would publicly discuss private conversations she had minutes before and vicious, baseless rumors spread about her.

Even former officials are subject to “fair game” and the excommunicating of family from the church. Mike Rinder, who served as the executive director of the office of special affairs (cited by Llwelyn as the branch of the organization responsible for the post-membership terrorizing, ironically enough), was immediately divorced from his wife of 35 years upon departure and his two adult children don’t maintain contact with him. This coldness is commonplace and not bound by blood.

The biggest crux to Scientology has without a doubt been the Internet. Troves of articles and testimony are now a click away, and no matter how hard it tries, the church cannot suppress this seemingly infinite flow of information. For more information, I highly recommend the documentary “Going Clear” and the South Park episode “Trapped in the Closet.”


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.