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Former Scientologist sues church for $200-million

Title: Former Scientologist sues church for $200-million
Date: Friday, 14 December 1979
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Thomas Brown
Main source:

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BOSTON — A 29-year-old former member of the Church of Scientology filed a $200-million lawsuit Thursday against the church, charging that the group has cheated thousands of converts by subjecting them to "mind control."

Lavenda Van Schaick of Somerville, Mass. contended in the suit filed in U.S. District Court here that the church misled her into divorcing her husband, paying about $13,000 for Scientologist instruction and working for the church without pay for nine years in Clearwater and Las Vegas, Nev.

Since she turned against the church, Ms. Van Schaick said, Scientologists have followed her, subjected her to electronic "bugging" and leaked details of her private life she had revealed in counseling sessions.

SCIENTOLOGY officials, who describe their belief as an "applied religious philosophy," branded the lawsuit "anti-religious" and "money-motivated."

Ms. Van Schaick's suit seeks compensation not only for herself but for "thousands" of others who she claims have been defrauded of $10,000 or more each by Scientology.

The lawsuit also asks that 17 persons, including church founder L. Ron Hubbard, be removed from power and that the church be placed in the hands of a federal receiver.

A statement issued by Robert E. Johnson, a local church president, said Ms. Van Schaick had been offered a refund of her money but that her attorney refused it. "It looks to us as though what they are trying to do is grandstand it and make an easy million dollars," he charged.

And Gary Klingler, a national church spokesman, estimated that as many as 3.5-million people have taken Scientology courses in the United States, including about 20,000 in the Boston area.

He said fees vary but added that a common introductory course, called "Communication," costs only about $75 and requires about two to four weeks of self study.

THE SUIT filed here is the latest of several legal problems facing the 26-year-old movement.

In Washington, D.C., nine Scientology members were recently convicted of obstructing justice in connection with burglaries of federal and private offices in Washington and Los Angeles. Earlier this year, in Oregon, a former Scientologist was awarded $2-million in damages against the church.

Ms. Van Shaick's suit asserts that Scientologists use a technique called "auditing" in which new members undergo extensive questioning while monitored by a crude lie detector and gradually come under the psychological domination of the "auditor."

According to the suit, a typical subject must pay at least $625 for 12½ hours of auditing but usually agrees to further treatment that costs thousands of dollars.

The suit contends that auditing is falsely advertised as a technique that will improve IQ, cure neuroses, heal injuries, prevent colds, improve eyesight and enhance careers.

Ms. Van Shaick's suit also criticized a church practice called the fair game doctrine and a policy called "disconnect."

The suit said the fair game doctrine tells members that any opponents of Scientology "may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed," while "disconnect" calls on members to disassociate themselves from relatives who oppose the church.