Q: How is becoming a Scientologist like buying a house?
A: You have to sign a contract!
Founded in 1952 by science-fiction novelist L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology espouses that a follower's "unlimited capabilities" can be realized by applying Scientology's principles of self-awareness and in celebrating the "spirit of the human condition." The church agreement explains that Scientology is "unalterably opposed" to the "practice of psychiatry" and as an alternative offers potential participants a free personality test and "in-depth analysis" from an "expert evaluator."
On April 24, ABC's Nightline aired interviews in which disillusioned former Scientologists (including a niece of current worldwide church leader David Miscavige) complained that the church limited their contact with family and forced them to work 15-hour days. (In a statement to ABC, the church refused to "engage in such a debate.") The broadcast was one in a series of publicity hits the church has suffered in recent months. January brought not only the unauthorized release of a video starring celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise but also a series of Internet attacks and demonstrations by a group of critics called Anonymous that pledges to "dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form." The church enjoys tax-exempt status and claims more than 3.5 million members in the United States, but its secretive organization has remained controversial since its inception, and the Scientologists have repeatedly been sued by defectors or their family members. The signed agreement is an attempt to limit Scientology's legal exposure. Church members are required to "forever give up my right to sue the church … for any injury or damage suffered in any way connected with Scientology religious services." In order to participate in services, one must further acknowledge that "no Scientology church is under any duty or obligation whatsoever to return any portion of any religious donation." In other words, all sales are final.
[Editor's note: Slate posted the contract in this space earlier today, but subsequently removed it.]
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