Scientology And The Legal System
The Church of Scientology has been involved in court disputes in several countries. In some cases, when the Church has initiated the dispute, question has been raised as to its motives. The Church says that its use of the legal system is necessary to protect its intellectual property and its right to freedom of religion. Critics say that most of the Church's claims are designed to harass Suppressive Persons, people who impede the progress of the Scientology movement.
According to a U.S. District Court Memorandum of Decision in 1993, Scientologists "have abused the federal court system by using it, inter alia, to destroy their opponents, rather than to resolve an actual dispute over trademark law or any other legal matter. This constitutes 'extraordinary, malicious, wanton, and oppressive conduct.' ... It is abundantly clear that plaintiffs sought to harass the individual defendants and destroy the church defendants through massive over-litigation and other highly questionable litigation tactics. The Special Master has never seen a more glaring example of bad faith litigation than this." Rulings such as this have classified the Church of Scientology as a chronically vexatious litigant.
Legal disputes initiated by Scientology often fall into one of the following categories:
- Religious discrimination cases, including recognition as a religious organization.
- Copyright infringement cases. Scientology's religious documents are copyrighted, and many are available only to members who pay for higher levels of courses and auditing.
- Libel and slander cases.
In the years since its inception, the Church of Scientology's lawsuits filed against newspapers, magazines, government agencies (including the United States tax collecting unit, the IRS), and individuals have numbered in the thousands. In 1991, Time magazine estimated that the Church spends an average of about $20 million per year on various legal actions, and it is the exclusive client of several law firms.
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