The Vancouver Sun, August 15, 1995.


The Independent

LOS ANGELES - The Church of Scientology is fighting a legal battle against a group of members who have transmitted the church's secret scriptures on the Internet.

The Los Angeles-based church, founded by science-fiction write L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, restricts access to its religious texts until members pay thousands of dollars - sometimes forfeiting their savings - for the privilege of spiritual growth.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles last week, the organization accused Arnaldo Lerma, a former missionary of the church, of copyright infringement and trade-secret misappropriation for electronically posting the 136-page text. The teachings have become hot property. After Lerma, 44, posted the teachings July 31 on the Usenet discussion group "alt.religion.scientology," the material instantaneously became avaiable all over the world. In court papers the church said Lerma, who calls himself a "21-st century blacksmith," had stolen the documents before posting them in cyberspace. Friday federal marshals confiscated his computer equipment. "They even took my mouse and modem," said Lerma.

"You have to jump through a lot of expensive hoops to get access to this," says Lerma, a member of the church between 1968 and 1997 who says he was scared off after he nearly eloped with a daughter of Hubbard. "This is the big secret at the end of the rainbow."

In February another former member in California was sued for posting material about the church.

According to the texts, the Scientologists, who are estimated to have anywhere between 50,000 and eight million members, aim "to bring an individual to an understanding of himself and his life as a spiritual being." The organization has 12,000 paid staff.

Helena Kobrin, a lawyer for the Religious Technology Center, which holds the Scientologists copyrights, said that other suits could follow. The case has caused outrage among Scientology dissidents on the forum that was set up in 1991 to expose the church.

One critic in Arizona said "A church that won't tell you what they teach unless you pay them? Most religions are happy to have you spread their gospel far and wide."