Lafayette Ronald Hubbard once said, “If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” In 1954, he followed that advice, founding the Church of Scientology and making it a multi-million-dollar operation. Better known as L. Ron Hubbard, the recluse died of a stroke January 24 at his ranch near San Luis Obispo, California. He was 74.

Hubbard, who was last seen publicly six years ago, first became known as a science fiction author. He had more than 500 science fiction works published, including the novel Battlefield Earth (1980), a national best seller.

However, Hubbard was best known for starting the controversial Church of Scientology, incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1954. Its teachings are based on theories published in Hubbard’s 1950 book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard coined the word “dianetics,” which he defined as “through soul.” The book has been published in 11 languages, and the church reports more than seven million copies have been sold.

Hubbard taught that the human race began 74 trillion years ago on the planet Venus, and that in the course of countless reincarnations, humans have accumulated “engrams.” Engrams are best defined as “emotional hangups,” comparable to repressed memories stored in the subconscious.

Sessions with Scientology “auditors” supposedly eliminate engrams. These sessions cost $300 an hour. One man is reported to have spent $250,000 trying in vain to eliminate his engrams. According to the church, only about 30,000 people have reached the engram-free state, known as “clear.”

The church’s history is laced with controversy. In 1983, Hubbard’s third wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, was sentenced to four years in prison. She was one of several church leaders convicted of conspiracy against the U.S. government. In 1984, a federal tax court rescinded the church’s tax-exempt status, claiming the church was a commercial enterprise. Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology, said this ruling “has only strengthened our determination … to bring about the reform of the Internal Revenue Service, and if necessary, to bring about its dismantling.” Hubbard not only survived all the controversy, but became a millionaire in the process. Scientology attorney Earle Cooley said Hubbard willed “tens of millions of dollars” to the church “after making very generous provision for his surviving wife and certain of his children.”

One offspring unlikely to have been listed as a beneficiary is Hubbard’s eldest son, born L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., but who changed his name to Ronald E. DeWolf in 1972 after having renounced Scientology 13 years earlier. In 1983 DeWolf sought to have his father declared dead and to have Hubbard’s financial assets frozen to prevent exploitation by the church’s leadership (CT, Feb. 18, 1983, p. 30).

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In a telephone interview, DeWolf, now a Christian, said he has led several ex-Scientologists to Christ and hopes to lead others “out of the wasteland of Scientology” and into the Christian faith. DeWolf said he is convinced his father was demon possessed. He quoted Hubbard as having said, “I would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

Whereas Hubbard claimed Scientology’s theories were based on 30 years of research, DeWolf maintains they were “written off the top of his head while he was under the influence of drugs.” DeWolf said his father had many mistresses, was plagued by venereal disease, and was deeply involved in the occult.

Well-known people who have identified themselves as Scientologists include actor John Travolta, former National Football League quarterback John Brodie, and convicted killer Charles Manson. Former Scientology officials estimate church assets at more than $300 million and annual income at over $100 million. According to Jentzsch, the church has six million members in 35 countries. However, defectors believe membership peaked at two million about 10 years ago, and that today’s membership may be less than 700,000.



A New Executive Director

The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has named Kent Hill to the newly created post of executive director. An associate professor of history at Seattle Pacific University, Hill specializes in East European and Soviet history. He will assume the IRD post in June.

Founded in 1981, the Washington, D.C.-based IRD promotes democratic values and dialogue within the church on foreign policy issues. Recently, it has been at the center of a controversy over church positions on Nicaragua.

Hill, 36, said IRD will maintain a deep commitment to basic Christian values while being broad enough to include mainline Protestants, evangelicals, and Catholics. He said he wants IRD to become a major resource center to assist churches when they consider foreign policy questions. “One of my main concerns with the church is its tendency to be naïve,” he said, “to jump on the bandwagon without enough careful thinking about its proposals.”

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He said dialogue between IRD and certain church groups, especially mainline denominations, has broken down in recent years. “It will be my firm commitment … to promote fair and civil discussion within the church world concerning critical foreign policy questions.”


Aid for a Bible Student

The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a ruling of the Washington (State) Supreme Court, which cited federal case law in denying vocational aid to a blind student studying for the ministry. However, the high court told the Washington Supreme Court it could apply that state’s stricter ban on aid to sectarian institutions to this case.

In 1979, while a student at Inland Empire School of the Bible in Spokane, Washington, Larry Witters sought assistance under a state vocational rehabilitation law. He was suffering from a progressively deteriorating eye condition. The Washington Commission for the Blind denied his request, as did a state hearings examiner and a state superior court. All cited Washington’s constitution, which specifically forbids the use of public funds to assist individuals pursuing religious studies.

Witters then appealed to the Washington Supreme Court. It also ruled against him, but based its judgment on a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision instead of on the state constitution. That 1971 high court ruling established a three-part test for these kinds of cases: a law in question must have a secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of advancing religion, and must not foster excessive government entanglement with religion.

The high court’s recent ruling in favor of Witters was unanimous. It determined that state aid for vocational rehabilitation services was not intended to promote religion, that it did so in this case only incidentally, since Witters chose to study for the ministry. The Court ruled that “no more than a minuscule amount of the aid awarded under the [state aid] program is likely to flow to religious education.”


Leader Is Excommunicated

The director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island has been excommunicated for what the Roman Catholic Church describes as her involvement in the “sinful termination of life.”

Mary Ann Sorrentino said she still considers herself a Catholic despite her excommunication. “I go to church, and I’m going to continue to go to church,” she said. “… They may tell me I’m out, but it’s really very hard to get between a person and God.”

Salvator R. Matano, vicar for administration in the Providence, Rhode Island, diocese, explained the church action. “Her excommunication is self-inflicted,” he said “… It is a logical consequence of her position [on abortion].” Matano quoted from the church’s Code of Canon Law, which states that “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic excommunication.” He said the canon also applies to those who assist or cooperate with others in procuring an abortion.

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Matano said Sorrentino could return to the church only if she gives up her job at Planned Parenthood, renounces her association with abortion clinics, and petitions church authorities for permission to return to the sacraments.

At a news conference, Sorrentino said she does not plan to give up her job or her support of legalized abortion. Faye Wattleton, national president of Planned Parenthood, called Sorrentino’s excommunication an “act of religious persecution.” But several Rhode Island prolife activists said the action was long overdue.


A Battle over Casinos

Religious leaders in Louisiana are speaking out against a proposed state lottery and a move to bring casino gambling to New Orleans. Baptist leaders in Shreveport and Bossier City have adopted resolutions against legalized gambling. Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart of Baton Rouge and Catholic Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans have joined the antigambling effort. At a news conference, Hannan said casinos would bring “evil effects” to Louisiana’s largest city. “Casino gambling, we fear, will have a particularly detrimental effect on family life.”

Said Swaggart: “We are totally and unequivocally opposed to [gambling] in all shapes, forms, and fashions.… [Gov. Edwin Edwards is] dead wrong on this issue.”

Edwards has proposed licensing as many as 15 casinos in New Orleans. He also is pushing for a state lottery. The governor has said casino gambling would help revitalize New Orleans as a tourist city, and that gambling would bolster the state’s sagging treasury. Opponents, however, point to the social costs associated with legalized gambling.

Tom Flynn, spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, has seen the negative impact of casino gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Commenting on the Louisiana proposal, he said casino gambling would bring “pimps, prostitutes, muggers, and arsonists” to New Orleans.

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