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Scientology showdown reveals claims of torture, abuse of dissenting members

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

As a church executive in Clearwater, Cook says she oversaw the audits of thousands of members.

In suing Cook and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, for $300,000, the church also secured a sweeping court order early this month effectively silencing the couple, keeping them from talking to virtually anyone about the case or Scientology. “It's one thing to have a private dispute between two parties over a contract, and it's another thing to have a court order in place that, if violated, you can be fined and even possibly thrown in jail,” said Ray Jeffrey, Cook's lawyer. 

The church asked for the court to extend the gag order throughout the trial, prompting a hearing on the matter last week. With high-profile celebrity members like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, the church has become the object of intense media scrutiny, church attorney George Spencer Jr. argued, insisting there's “an environment where the news media and certain newspapers will, because of a fascination with the church, sensationalize even the most minor controversies and criticisms.” He said he asked for the injunction to shield the church from “scrutiny we do not want or desire.”

But the church's legal strategy appears to have had the opposite effect. In pushing for a hearing on the injunction, Cook was forced to air scathing allegations in a public forum.

It's a legal tactic the church has used successfully in the past, says Marty Rathbun, a former high-ranking Scientology member turned scourge of the official church. Rathbun says he helped pioneer the church's use of the sweeping non-disclosure agreements before he himself defected in 2004, moving to Ingleside on the Bay outside Corpus Christi. “The whole thing is orchestrated to create a tremendous amount of duress to get them to sign, then you produce something the church can use to say there was no duress,” Rathbun said.

The video church attorneys showed in court last week of a quiet, murmuring Cook signing her agreement alongside church lawyers is an event that's often rehearsed, Rathbun says, standard practice so the church can use it for cover in court. He added that when a former member steps out of line, the church sues, rushing to file for temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions to crush, punish, and muzzle them. The drawn-out litigation may very well bury and bankrupt former members. “The purpose was to strike fear into the hearts of the people that were leaving and to shutter them into silence forever so they would never think about uttering anything about what they'd seen inside.”

The church, he says, is notoriously unforgiving of people who “blow*,” or leave the church, and those inside the church call them “Squirrels,” a pejorative label for someone who the church cites as touting false doctrine. He and Cook both spoke of sweeping teams sent out by the church to intercept and recover errant members.

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