By Michael Moore
“Since we can now handle all types of cases, disconnection as a condition is cancelled.”
L. Ron Hubbard, HCOPL of 15 November 1968, Cancellation of Disconnection
Excommunication is one of those touchy subjects in religion, especially with what is often referred to as the orthodox or official religion. Excommunication has been practiced throughout history as both a method of keeping the religion pure as well as an applied punishment for non adherence to the religious rituals and tenets of the group or culture.Many of the laws we now follow have been derived from a religious background and there are many similarities between the various popular religions as to what constitutes a break in religious tenets and tort law. Broadly speaking one could say, in fact, that imprisonment is a form of excommunication imposed by society for established guilt of breaking the law.
However there is a difference between religious law and common or legislative law. The part that we will examine as relates to scientology is the aspect of excommunication or shunning. In Scientological parlance it is widely known as the “Declare”.
But first lets look at excommunication as it is practiced by some other current religions and some of the ramifications inherent in the excommunication process.
The catholic and scientology churches are not the only ones to practice excommunication, or more popularly shunning, we will use the word shunning from now on, to keep it simple. This is practiced in Jewish law, Amish, Bible Tract, Christian, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, Baha’i Faith, Catholic as well as many others.
The degree to which the shunning is imposed is as important as the reason for the shunning and this leads us to the discovery that there are two types of shunning. Active and Passive.
Passive shunning is the most common in most religions and is the state where the person is simply shunned from the official organ or church. They are ignored, as in the Jehovah’s Witness or the Bible Tract society. The person is simply ignored and it is as if they are not there. This degree is really only effective where the person remains in the culture or group. Once they leave the group or join another group this is somewhat ineffective. A Catholic person who has been excommunicated can still operate in the society and mix and have relationships with other Catholics. Indeed, other Catholics may not even be aware that this person has been excommunicated.
In close knit communities however it is more effective as a form of law either for the protection of the group or as a mild form of punishment to enforce or encourage compliance with the groups morals or dictates.
Active shunning, on the other hand, may include actively going out of ones way to punish the person. This is extra and over and above the act of excommunication. It may even extend outside the boundaries of community and legislative law. The declare and ‘fair game’ process as practiced by the official Church of Scientology may come into this category.
Per the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in the US:
“Permitting prosecution of a cause of action in tort, while not criminalizing the conduct at issue, would make shunning an “unlawful act.” Imposing tort liability for shunning on the Church or its members would, in the long run, have the same effect as prohibiting the practice and would compel the church to abandon part of it’s religious teachings.”
Shunning, although may invoke some religions restrictions, cannot stand above the law of the country.
Community issues are important here also. How far should shunning go? Should it be active or passive?
- May one shun or excommunicate a person when the shunning process might (or will) drive this person completely away from the religious community or religious observance and
- May one shun or exclude the relatives of a person in order to encourage the person to cease his or her activities? And is this a form of inflicted punishment upon those also?
It can be established that shunning only works on the person being shunned IF he or she agrees that the shunning restricts him or her from the faith excluding him or her.
What is leverage and what is punishment? Is using children, for example as leverage different to punishing them by denying them access to their father who may be shunned although they are not guilty of the apparent tenet violations of their father? And how far should the chain extend? Should those who associate with the shunned person also be shunned by the fact of association? Should those who associate with those who are associating with the shunned person also be shunned? Where does it stop?
There are three issues here. The first is the applicability of the Tort (tort: A wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to legal liability.) to inflict intentional harm, such as emotional distress and or damages. The second is the applicability of the first amendment protection to provide positive immunity to religious groups that engage in contact not conflicting with tort law doctrines. The third is the first amendment and defence of the individual undergoing shunning either active or passive and the question of emotional, physical or financial distress caused by the act of excommunication.
For example. A person who has worked in the Sea Organization since childhood and has been brought up in that environment. Knows only the practices and training inherent within that society. Is then, for whatever reason, thrust out of that environment into one that is almost completely alien to them in which they have no experience or training. Is this passive or active excommunication taking into account the emotional and not to mention financial distress and lack of ability to fit in with the society in which they have immediately been thrust.
This is akin to spending 30 years in prison and then being sent outside into a different world, but worse in fact, as in these cases the individual usually has some prior experience of the outside world whereas the ex sea org member would not.
In addition some courts in law hold it to be true that religious disciplines or actions cannot be actionable on the disciplined member while they remain a member of the religious organization. What if when they are shunned from that religious organisation and are no longer a member and therefore no longer subject to the morals and religious disciplines of the organisation?
To what degree a person is considered a member of a religious organization is in question however? One HAS to be a member in order for a particular religious discipline to be applicable but if the person is then NOT a member of the religious organization then such agreed upon disciplines are not actionable on the individual.
This is dangerous ground for the CSI. Declaring and actively being involved in activities likely to cause distress of any kind could then be pointed as discriminatory and harassment of a person not a member of the organization at best and possibly criminal by law at worst.
Many courts in fact have taken the basic approach that shunning and excommunication, which would include declaring for our purposes, are actionable conduct even then it is unaccompanied by any other activity.
For example, the Church of Scientology of California at one point — and perhaps still does, adopted a policy of “fair game” towards individuals who are excommunicated. One court described the doctrine as follows:
Under Scientology’s “fair game” policy, someone who threatened Scientology by leaving the church “may be deprived of property or injured by any means by a Scientologist … The targeted defector may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”
This places the Church of Scientology actions outside the protection of law and indeed may even place them in tort.
This can include such activities as:
Unwarranted Investigation with a view to obtaining information unconducive to the interests of the offended party
Splitting up families
Anonymous phone calls
Threatening behaviour towards the individual
Planned campaigns to hinder or restrict the lawful financial activities of the individual
Any activities that interfere in the affairs of the offended party
Intentional rumour mongering, slander and defamation of character
Frivolous law suits with the intention of restricting the activities and personal rights of the individual, also known as SLAPP suits (SLAPP suit: A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence)
This would be active shunning with a vengeance.
It has also been said that even the mere fact of “declaring” a person Suppressive may be a reason for bringing civil actions for defamation of character. Especially if it was quite incorrect! To state that a person is suppressive of other people when they are not would likely constitute slander. This may explain why the number of public ‘Declares” has reduced.
Over the past years since the demise of the founder of scientology, many people have been “declared”. In one year alone over 2000 people were declared! According to the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, only 2.5 percent of society is ‘actually suppressive’. Yet the church has declared many people simply because they associate with others who have been declared who have associated with others who have been declared. This dizzy ring-a-roses has now diluted the original purpose of isolating out those people who would destroy scientology so much it has now degraded the action of isolating out people based, not upon any factual statement of suppressive guilt, to declaring anyone who does not toe the official line. As well as being an injustice to those so declared it also hides those people who well may be suppressive under an all encompassing banner which increasingly less people pay heed to.
By way of example, here Former Scientology Members one can find a list of people, almost all who were close associates of the founder of scientology and who participated to a extent in building up the church in its hey day, who have been declared for one reason or another.
It is very difficult to believe that all of those people, many of them close associates for many years, were suppressive and yet at the same time were honoured by Ron Hubbard and were responsible for much of the support Hubbard got in building up the organization in the early days.
The fact that so many of the original adherents have been ‘declared’ shortly after the demise of Ron Hubbard tends to lead one to the conclusion that the purpose of declaring a person has changed from the original, which was to protect the technology, to some purpose yet to be made known.
Indeed, in it’s present guise, there could be some justification for many current ‘Declares’, to coin a word, to question the legal validity of the active shunning process imposed by the church of scientology and the possible affect it may have upon them and their families.
Certainly, unless the church assumes more responsibility and reviews its current stance on the question of shunning, it is quite likely to continue to contract instead of expand.
As a last comment. The Buddhist philosophy has had no policy of shunning and does not exclude anyone. It has also been expanding non stop since it’s inception.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt here.