Skepticism

Scientology Court Drama in Boston

Here in Boston, Anonymous has been busy spreading the truth about the dangers of disconnecting people from loved ones, denying them psychiatric treatment, and starting a religion based on bad sci-fi novels. Anon needed permits in order to conduct peaceful, law-abiding protests, so one man had to step up and put his name down on City paperwork.

His name is Gregg, and as soon as the Scientologists found out about him they enacted their Fair Game policy, which encourages them to harm opponents in any way possible. They decided to entangle him in legal proceedings in the hopes of exhausting his resources and ruining him, a common tactic on the part of the “Church” of Scientology. That’s been going on since March, and the CoS has just dumped more ludicrous charges on him: disturbing the peace and, laughably, disturbance of assembly for worship.

First of all, Gregg tells me that the last time anyone made it to court for disturbance of assembly for worship was 1806. Ha! Plus, one person on the Anon forum pointed out this article in the Boston Globe, which contains the following:

Gerard Renna, director of the Church of Scientology of Boston, said in an interview yesterday that church services were not affected by the protest. Members of the church continued to enter through the front entrance as two Boston police officers stood outside the door.

The same Anon also pointed out that there were police present at each protest, who could easily verify the simple fact that everyone was peaceful. Had anyone actually disturbed the peace, surely the police would have stopped them immediately.

Also, I recall a local Boston radio personality who actually visited the CoS as a potential recruit while the protests were ongoing. He reported that things inside were ridiculously, eerily calm. I can’t embed YouTube at the moment but I think this is the link (I may edit later).

For now, though, common sense takes a backseat to legal proceedings. Gregg was in court yesterday, where the Scientologists told a judge that they specifically worship god as a supreme being (really? That may be news to many Scientologists) and meet every Sunday, which convinced the judge to arraign Gregg on both charges.

All of this absurdity is making Gregg pay through the nose for legal fees. If you’re interested in helping him out with those, he happens to accept PayPal at this address: [email protected]

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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31 Comments

  1. I’ve seen a lot of comment on the Net to the effect that Anon protesters are being silly and exaggerating the Church of $cientology’s tactics, etc. In short, comments from people who think Anon should have just left $cientology alone cuz what’s the big deal after all?
    This case helps illustrate the “big deal.”

  2. I love the Scientology protests! I attended the first round of them in Vancouver, BC, last year and it was the very definition of a peaceful gathering. I got a stress test while listening to Rick Astley; they claimed I had stress, but I disagreed.

    The one disturbing moment came when I left the protest, rounded a corner and saw a police officer writing something in a notepad. I asked him what was going on, if everything was going smoothly, and he told me to “immediately leave his area” and refused to say what he was writing. I get the feeling that Scientology has the ability to influence law enforcement and legal proceedings, and that creeps me out a little. A lot, actually.

  3. I’m sorry for Mr. Gregg, but this looks like a winning strategy for Anon. The fact that Co$ has tied Gregg up in court doesn’t prevent Anon from holding another protest in Boston or anywhere else as long as they have brave citizens who are willing to put their name on the form.

    Next time they should get a bankrupt, homeless guy to fill out the paperwork. Co$ could try to get blood from that tomato all day.

  4. A few years ago, I was working a few days a week at a friend’s vintage boutique. There was no computer, and often I forgot to bring a book (it was a very low-traffic place).However, there were hundreds of old Playboy magazines.

    I would read the letters, the Advisor, and the Forum. I was sickened by the fact that a lot of the things about abortion and gay rights could have been written today (these were from the early ’70’s. We’ve come a very short way, baby..

    Anyway, just yesterday I was looking at an old Time magazine from the mid-sixties which had a little article on the CoS’ litigious, insane ways. So…40-something years later all that’s changed is their increased numbers. It’s still outlawed in Germany, right? Right?

  5. @ Ooxman – Be Worried. The case of the teenager in London arrested demonstrating against the cult brings this to light. Turns out the police had been accepting gifts from Scientology.

    @whitebird – Scientology is classed as a cult in Germany and they do have to be very careful. Even Tom Cruise found it very hard to film there, needed special permits and everything.

  6. Reading things like this makes me wonder: do the people at the top of such organizations truly believe what they are doing is right? Or is there just some im/amoral bastard sitting on some throne somewhere raking in the dough and laughing at all of the poor suckers who try to take his organization on.

  7. Reading things like this makes me wonder: do the people at the top of such organizations truly believe what they are doing is right? Or is there just some im/amoral bastard sitting on some throne somewhere raking in the dough and laughing at all of the poor suckers who try to take his organization on.

    From what I’ve heard about David Miscaivage, I’m going to go with the latter. Hubbard himself seemed to have a large sociopathic streak as well.

  8. @Ooxman: Actually, in Florida the Police Law Enforcement IS infiltrated by scientology. I think that’s in Clearwater FL if I’m not mistaken. I think I saw some reference to that in BBC’s Scientology and Me Documentary with John Sweeny.

    Scientology makes me livid. I want to join a protest but I’d be afraid I’d start yelling at those creeps that are destroying people’s lives and end up getting sued myself. *sigh*

    Part of me wants to hold a massive riot against the ‘Church’ in an effort to stop them but then the rational part of me realizes it’s a hopeless effort. They have Will Smith now. *weep*

  9. I wonder if charges were filed against this particular Gregg because he is already a convicted software pirate and the mere filing of charges would have a particularly significant impact on him (i.e., on terms of probation or parole).

    Still, the stories about this raise an interesting question – Should anonymity of speech be protected by the First Amendment if things like libel and slander are not?

  10. My parents live in Clearwater and they say that the entire city government is riddled with Scientologists and sympathizers.

    The Scientologists are truly scary people. No one in Clearwater dares to speak up anymore, for fear of these tactics. These folks do things like putting live rattlesnakes in reporter’s mailboxes after they write up unfavorable articles about the “Church of Scientology.” I think that Joshua hit it right on the head – I think there is a leadership group raking in the cash from these gullible rubes, especially the rich ones like Tom Cruise.

    Personally, I think life is too short to take on these S.O.B.’s without a lot of powerful allies. Until this organization overreaches (which they will inevitably do, sooner or later), we will have to be patient and wait.

  11. @TheSkepticalMale:

    Should anonymity of speech be protected by the First Amendment if things like libel and slander are not?

    YES! Anonymous speech should be without a doubt protected. History is rife with examples of radical thinkers who successfully conveyed their messages anonymously, and unless I misunderstand you it makes no sense to censor someone just because he is anonymous.

    That said, this case has nothing to do with the anonymity of the protesters and everything to do with the lack of anonymity of the one person the Scientologists have attacked.

  12. Rebecca-

    My question did not really have to do with your original post – I saw a related article on the web about the First Amendment issues and the Co$’s challenges (to keep the protestors from wearing masks).

    What I meant was – should I be able to anonymously libel someone? That is, libel is not protected by the First Amendement and is an actionable tort. Should we allow the law a mechanism to break through anonymity to find out who is speaking the untruths that cause damages to others, or do we shelter it under the First Amendment?

  13. I only have one thing to say:

    “You can’t do anything right – probably not even such a simple thing as starting a new religion”
    – Robert A. Heinlein to L. Ron Hubbard before he started the Co$.

    *grin*

  14. Well, libel is libel, whatever the circumstances. But it’s hard enough to establish it even when the libeller is known, at least in the US. It’s tough to prove a motive to harm when you don’t even know who wrote the libel in question…

  15. @Joshua: You do not have to prove motive to establish a claim for libel. The plaintiff merely has to establish that the defendant “published” a false statement about the plaintiff which caused damages to the plaintiff. As a practical matter, the most difficult element to prove is damages, although in the age of blogs, these cases are becoming more and more frequent outside the context of celebrities and tabloids. (For example, the difficult burden to prove in a blog situation is damages – i.e., you have to prove DIRECT tangible and financial consequences to the libel, like losing your job).

    My question is that if you create a forum where people can communicate in a very public way anonymously – you also create an opportunity for a person libel another, and the anonymity keeps the former from being identified as a potential defendant. So there IS an interest in keeping public forums from being anonymous, but any effort you take to remove anonymity may “chill” the exercise of free speech. Where do you strike the balance?

  16. That so? Granted, IANAL, but my understanding is that in order to prove libel you have to establish that the libel was something that the libeler knows to be false, for the sole purpose of causing damage. I.e., if you’re repeating a second-hand fact that you have no cause to doubt, that’s not libel.

  17. Yes, but knowing that something is libelous is not the same as motive. You are correct – as plaintiff, you have to prove the defendant acted with “actual malice” (i.e., knowledge of untruth or reckless disregard for the truth), but ONLY if the plaintiff is a public official (New York Times v. Sullivan). Otherwise, the standard is either negligence or strict liability (which effectively puts the burden back on the defendant).

  18. Well, now I know. And knowing is half the battle. =D

    To address your main question, I think the balance has to be struck in favour of allowing anonymous channels, even if said channels enable libel or even worse things like hate speech. When you look at some of the controversial technologies of the past 50 years, like the VCR, P2P software, etc., all of them have illegitimate and even illegal uses; however, none of them have been successfully legally challenged on the whole as long as they can be shown to provide some compelling legitimate use.

    The same logic would ultimately have to apply to anonymous communications. As long as you can establish legitimate use (i.e., protected speech), you can’t shut down an entire communications channel just because some portion of it will be used for illegitimate purposes (libel and hate speech).

  19. I think the question goes to the very nature of expression that the First Amendment is intended to protect. Some things need to be said for a fully-functioning democracy (or in the case of the U.S., the semi-functioning democracy), and sometimes those things need to be said anonymously. For the same reason, reporters should be able to protect their anonymous resources, although the same reporters should also be subject to scrutiny in the marketplace of ideas and communication (i.e., if their anonymous sources prove to be false, then the reporter’s reputation should be brought down a notch).

    For those who are lost as to how this discussion spawned, the Co$ has requested that the protestors not be permitted to wear masks.

  20. Interesting discussion . . . sorry I dropped out of it for awhile but just wanted to apologize to TheSkepticalMale for not getting what you were saying at first. On board now, and I agree with Joshua that the balance should err in favor of anonymous speech. In a similar vein, I also support the right of an ISP to withhold the information of users who the RIAA suspects of illegally downloading mp3s. Pirating is wrong, but the solution is not to violate people’s privacy — it’s to stop the theft before it happens.

  21. >>”For those who are lost as to how this discussion spawned, the Co$ has requested that the protestors not be permitted to wear masks.”

    That rather sounds like a large can of worms being opened.
    Would a ban on masks apply to face-painting, or even makeup?
    I’m sure it wouldn’t take much theatrical application of cosmetics to make someone hard to recognise.
    It’s rather harder to ask someone to scrub their face clean than to lift up a mask.

    Fundamentally, unless someone at a protest is committing an offence there and then, it shouldn’t matter a damn who they are. Given that people have a perfectly rational fear of reprisals being taken against them by the Co$, they’d seem to have every reason to be anonymous.

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