I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, just casually walking down Montgomery Street when I saw a sign on the sidewalk that said: “Church of Scientology – All are Welcome.” I had just read Lawrence Wright’s book, “Going Clear” which told in chilling detail the inside story of this “religion” and I quickly went the other way. The legal system plays a prominent role in the book, particularly the twenty year legal war (1973 – 1993) that the IRS had with the church trying to prove that it was not a bona fide religion in order to collect $1 billion in back taxes. Turns out that was hard to do, especially when the church was throwing money at law firms “to harass and discourage rather than to win.” According to Wright, the church filed 200 lawsuits against the IRS and 2,000 individual suits by church members, overwhelming government lawyers until the IRS finally yielded. The church is now recognized as a valid religion. Tom Cruise gets to deduct his contributions, I presume. In 1991 the church also went after Time Magazine for a story they didn’t like and at one time had a reported annual litigation budget of $20 million and over 100 lawyers, just to fight Time.
What really caught my attention was the story about Daniel Montalvo. According to the book, his parents became Scientologists when he was five and by age eleven he worked full-time ( eventually from 8 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.) for the church for about $36 a day. He shoveled asbestos from an old hotel without a mask and rarely saw his parents. He attended school one day a week, on Saturday. When he was fifteen he operated scissors lifts and other heavy equipment. He also began working in a book production facility where he operated a machine with a guillotine-like blade that sliced through book pages, and one day he accidently sliced off his index finger. “He was instructed to tell the admitting nurse that he had injured himself in a skateboarding accident. The doctors were unable to reattach the finger.” Wright doesn’t mention the workers’ compensation system, but I have a feeling a claim was never filed.