The Church of Scientology Should Be Commended

- A Joint Statement -


      Recently there has been considerable media coverage of legal actions that the Church of Scientology has taken to protect its validly owned copyrights and trade secrets from being unlawfully disseminated on the Internet. While some of the reports have addressed the issues responsibly, an element of the media has engaged in a thinly disguised attempt to criticize a religion for exercising its First Amendment right to safeguard its scriptures.

      In guarding its religious texts from improper use, the Church of Scientology is protected not only by copyright and trade secret law, but is supported by long-standing religious tradition.

      One newspaper actually admitted that an Internet user named Arnaldo Lerma had violated the laws of copyright and trade secrets in posting copies of confidential, unpublished Scientology religious works on the Internet. But then, for no discernible reason other than caprice or prejudice, the paper reprinted statements from the very same protected materials—even though an expert quoted in the same story made it clear that copying and publication of the material is not allowed, even if the documents are obtained from a court file.

      What was particularly disturbing is that the reporter apparently regarded Mr. Lerma’s illicit actions as excusable, if not commendable, and considered that he was deserving of sympathy even after the law caught up with him. There is no justification for extolling the thief and portraying him as a “poor victim” in a transparently disguised effort to help Mr. Lerma minimize the consequences for his illegal actions. Lerma broke the law; a federal judge meted out a statutory remedy.

      To try to make seem odd the legal and valid actions of the Church to protect its religious works from misappropriation and misuse displays religious prejudice, as well as religious ignorance. What possible motive could there be for this? Obviously the only purpose is to create controversy—at the expense of the religious freedom of members of the Church of Scientology.

      There is enough disharmony in the world without the need for lies and untruths to be foisted off in the guise of “news” to try and create more.

      Nobody who posts to the Internet should be above the law and thus should not be allowed to violate the intellectual property rights of others with impunity. Yet some misguided individuals appear to believe otherwise: First, they post copyrighted and otherwise protected material on the Internet. Next, they make the specious and transparent claim that because these materials are now on the Net, they have become public property and their further dissemination is a matter of “free speech.” Plainly speaking, this scenario is akin to misappropriating the unpublished manuscript of John Grisham’s next novel, distributing copies to everyone one can think of and then, when the author calls on the courts to interdict the unauthorized publication and effect the return of his property, complaining that one feels victimized and one’s free speech rights are being violated. In this context the absurdity of the perpetrator’s position is obvious.

      What is worse probably, is insensitivity towards the Church of Scientology’s religious beliefs, which are also protected rights under the First Amendment. For centuries and still in the present, many religions have been faced by a dual need to disseminate their beliefs as widely as possible without losing confidential central tenets of their faith and practices through misappropriation, misduplication and misunderstanding. Thus, as the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found in a 1986 case involving the First Church of Christ, Scientist, at least thirty editions and translations of the Bible are validly copyrighted and protected against unauthorized publication.

      And, while spreading their message as widely as possible – as the Church of Scientology is well known to do through literature, television, radio and film presentations – many religious groups maintain as a core aspect of their religious teachings that certain portions of their scriptures are to be kept from newcomers and are only to be studied by those who have reached the required spiritual preparedness.

      Rev. Dean Kelley, Counselor on Religious Liberty at the National Council of Churches in New York, explained the reasons for this in a recent paper:

      “Confidentiality of religious materials is a common historical phenomenon seen in many religions, including Christianity. It takes at least two forms—(1) preserving sacred doctrines and practices from profanation or ridicule by unbelieving outsiders, and (2) keeping advanced spiritual knowledge from adherents who are not yet ready to understand or utilize it.”

      Rev. Kelley adds that the insistence by early Christians that some of their teachings and practices were secret led to “extraordinary accusations” from the Greeks and Romans, including charges of obscenity and even cannibalism—the latter prompted by rumors that Christians “ate” the flesh and blood of their divinity.

      No doubt to a Greek or Roman the communion service which is so familiar to us today would have seemed bizarre, cultish, peculiar—but it is clearly religious and within the rights of people to observe.

The Hindu tradition also emphasizes the confidentiality of certain sacred texts. “The underlying assumption in the Hindu tradition concerning the secrecy of sacred texts concerns the spiritual suitability of maturity of individuals. It is considered a violation of the sacrality of certain texts to expose them to the spiritually immature”, according to Dr. David Kinsley, who has been studying Hinduism for more than 25 years.

      In reserving some of its doctrines for parishioners who have advanced to a high plane of spirituality, the Church is following what Bryan Wilson, Reader Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Oxford and probably the most eminent contemporary scholar of religion in the world today, has described as “a broad educational principle of not exposing to advanced ideas those who have not yet demonstrated their mastery of elementary principles.”

      Or, as Professor Lonnie Kliever of Southern Methodist University has put it in describing the reasons for sacred texts, the advanced religious materials of the Church of Scientology “do not lend themselves to immediate comprehension or didactic explanation. Rather, they must be the object of a progressive mastery at different and deepening levels of spiritual experience and understanding.”

      The Church of Scientology’s actions in defense of its religious beliefs and practices should be commended. The Church has demonstrated that it has the courage to pioneer a trail that all owners of intellectual properties will be able to follow in the end. It is not the first time that the Church of Scientology has stepped where others feared to tread. The Church’s litigation will potentially set precedents which secure religious freedom as well as intellectual property rights. And, last but not least, the Internet will still function as an important part of the international information highway, but without the stigma that it is a haven for the lawless.

Dr James Lewis
Executive Director
Association of World Academics for Religious Edication (AWARE)

Rev. Dean Kelley
Counselor on Religious Liberty
National Council of Churches
New York

Dr. Peter Bilaniuk
University of St. Michael's College University
Toronto

Dr. Juris Calitis
Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Dr. James Nichols
Voice of Freedom Ministry

Dr. Isaac N. Brooks, Jr.
National Task Force on Religious Freedom Litigation and Legislation

Dr. Brent Luckman
Author of best selling World Wide Web Yellow Pages

Mr. Dennis McKenna
Publisher of Government Technology

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