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Scientology and the FDA

Title: Scientology and the FDA
Date: Saturday, 1 October 1966
Publisher: Fate Magazine
Author: Richard E. Saunders
Main source: link (1.22 MiB)

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Public will pay high price for its apathy — if even government agencies become electronic snoops.

MOST AMERICANS take religious freedom for granted. Some may be vaguely aware that it is guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution because some of the very early settlers on this continent came in search of just this freedom, but their general attitude is one of indifference.

Unfortunately their lofty assumption that churches never are harassed in this country is incorrect. Even more unfortunately, an agency of the federal government itself — the Food and Drug Administration — has been responsible for some overt harassing.

On January 3, 1963, a truckload of United States marshals raided the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C., on the order of the FDA. The millions of the law tramped through the halls of the church, interfered with the religious services in progress, and seized large amounts of church property — which the Scientologists have not been able to get back in all this time despite a lawsuit for its recovery.

As was subsequently disclosed, the principal objective of the seizure were machines known as E-meters. These E-meters resemble lie detectors and function in much the same way; that is, they are used to gauge emotional responses. Although they are much smaller than lie detectors they are very sensitive.

True, the church is small and relatively unknown. It doesn't have a lot of money for a long lawsuit to protect its rights and to recover its property. But as its counsel contended, the violation of the principle of religious freedom was no less flagrant than if the forces of the law had forcibly entered the biggest Catholic church in town and confiscated its holy water or had insisted on examining the wafers and wine used sacramentally in other churches.

The press could not get itself very worked up over the raid on the Scientologists. Apparently it did not see much of a story in the incident because Scientology was not very prominent as a religion — if indeed it was regarded as a religion at all in newsmen's minds. However, as was brought out, the FDA gave the press advance notice of the raid.

There is little doubt that the whole affair would be forgotten now if it were not for Congress. Despite the low esteem in which it now seems popular to hold it, Congress always can be counted on to come to the rescue when fundamental rights are challenged. It did so in this case.

The matter came to the attention of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee headed by Sen. Edward V. Long (D. Mo.) which already was engaged in investigating invasions of privacy by government agencies using such means as electronic eavesdropping, wiretapping and unwarranted seizures. In fact, the FDA already had been called on the Subcommittee's carpet and strongly rebuked for going too far in its snooping activities.

At the outset of the hearings on the raid on the Scientologists it became apparent that the essential issue was the use to which the E-meters were put. The printed transcript of the hearing, which became available for the first time early this year, is full of assertions by the Scientologists that these machines are used during what they term the "confessionals" or "auditing" of members. The point is stressed that while they are helpful in this process they are not indispensable.

On the other hand, the FDA charged that according to the literature seized, the machines were used to diagnose or cure various diseases, that they were mislabeled because nothing was printed on them stating how or for what purpose they were to be used — though the label clearly proclaimed they were for use in Scientology.

As it broadly interprets its mission, the Food and Drug Administration regards any physical object or substance for which medical powers are claimed as coming under its jurisdiction. Officials of the agency say this is what made them decide to move against the Scientologists, making full use of their powers of seizure. They also allege they had complaints from persons who paid for treatments without receiving beneficial results.

The Scientologists told the Congressional Subcommittee far different story. They made clear their organization was a church in the full meaning of the word. Wayne Rohrer, a minister of the church, said it was officially recognized as a church by the District of Columbia authorities and had the right to perform marriages and other services.

Asked by the Subcommittee's chief counsel Bernard Fensterwald, Jr., to give a brief account of the essential beliefs of the church, Rohrer read the following excerpt from the creed: "We of the church believe that the spirit can be saved and that the spirit alone may save or heal the body."

The Scientologists emphatically denied they ever had claimed the E-meters could cure diseases. After having obtained this testimony under oath along with the supplementary statement that the machines were used in a religious and not a medical way, Subcommittee Counsel Fensterwald expressed bewilderment as to why the FDA had taken the action in the first place.

"I do not see, then, what business it is of the Food and Drug Administration," he said.

At the Subcommittee's request a short demonstration of the apparatus as used in measuring emotional response was staged. Oscar R. Brinkman, the attorney for the Foundation Church of Scientology, agreed to clutch the handles through which the machine operates and answer a few inconsequential questions put to him by Reverend Rohrer.

One question asked was whether he was nervous in the Subcommittee presence. His answer, "Very much so," indicated a certain amount of reaction, Rohrer informed the amused Senators.

A lot of clarifying data was placed in the record from letters Senator Long received from a businessman constituent in Missouri who also is a Scientologist. Among other things the Missourian brought out a fact about Scientology that seems not to be generally understood: although it is a religion in its own right there is nothing exclusive about it; members of other churches may join it.

For example, Senator Long's constituent said he was an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of his hometown as well as a member of the Church of Scientology "as they are compatible with each other".

He wrote that the church used E-meters in a process "that would be similar to 'confession' in the Catholic church." He said, "Instead of a person confessing whatever 'sins' he cares to confess, the Church of Scientology uses a long list of questions that would cover almost any sin committed by anyone. Often the sin that is causing the most guilt is the one a person is most reluctant to talk about." He went on to explain that this is where the E-meter proves of value — in indicating what needs to be pursued in more detail if the person's mind is to be relieved.

He said he thought it significant that the FDA "has never seized an electric shock machine used by psychiatrists although many people have been electrocuted by them". He also made the point that others made: the FDA has not picked on other churches.

The raid on their church and the confiscation of their property were not the only outrages they suffered at the hands of the FDA, the Scientologists told the Senators. Scientologist Attorney Brinkman said it was a matter of court record that the agency had sent a spy to join the church and ferret out all the information he could.

"We know that there were a great many agents involved in this case but we have the names of only four or five of them," he said. "We know there were many more than that. They have gone all over the country to find evidence against the church."

In addition, Brinkman said, "We suspect — and we have some reason for the suspicion — that they tapped the telephone lines of the church. We know that our mail was delayed. We believe that there may have been a mail cover on the mail of the church."

Although it can't be documented, both the Scientologist and Senate staffers strongly suspect that the AMA was largely responsible for instigating the FDA'S investigati0n. The agency does not admit this; its explanation, as stated before, is that it had received complaint.

The official position of the FDA regarding the general pursuit of its activities as stated in press conferences, on radio and during special interviews, is that to save people from food or drug poisoning, the agency must be able act immediately and to wield extraordinary powers. They have to seize contaminated foods, or dangerous drugs with utmost promptness, they explain. Obviously this involves hasty decisions which later may prove have been a mistake; but where lives are at stake, they insist, there is no alternative.

As an illustration they call to a number of deaths that occurred a few years from botulinic poisoning. The source was traced to smoked fish packets originating in food processing plants in Michigan. The FDA acted with alacrity, seized the fish packets as they were being distributed, from the shelves of grocery stores and delicatessens, closed down the plants until the danger could be eliminated, and thus saved the lives of uncounted other consumers who might have eaten the poison food.

But Senator Long is far from satisfied that the FDA and the other agencies his Subcommittee has checked are using their powers with proper restraint. He has expressed particular concern over invasions of privacy by the use of electronic snooping devices and the planting of spies.

There seems no doubt that the Subcommittee will speak out strongly against government agencies using their powers to interfere with religion — particularly when no menace to health or safety is involved. The Subcommittee will make known its position on these matters and will recommend corrective action when it files its report sometime in the future.

The Scientologists have suggested a number of amendments to the law that would provide better protection in the future. One of these suggestions is for stricter procedure in the issuance of search and seizure warrants by United States District Courts to government agencies. Such warrants should be supported by sworn testimony of affidavits based on the personal knowledge of those making them, they say. Testimony before the Subcommittee showed that the FDA had no such sworn testimony when it raided the Founding Church of Scientology.

According to the Scientologist's attorney the warrant had not been sworn to and had no affidavit. It was "merely the statement of the United States Attorney and two of his assistants," he said.

More specifically, Brinkman contends it should be just as hard for a government agency to get a warrant to invade the premises of a private citizen or a church in a civil case as it is in a criminal case.

He noted that rapists, murderers and drug sellers have their rights protected against summary action by law enforcement agencies but citizens and churches in civil cases do not. He said that at present the FDA "can invade the premises and take whatever they want without a sworn warrant."