The details are skimpy so far, but the essence of it seems to be that a Moscow City Court has ordered the church of scientology in Moscow to close up shop within 6 months for being in violation of business laws. They seem to conclude that scientology must be a business because the name (and other things) are trademarked. Tony Ortega has a pretty concise summary at his blog.
This order will of course be appealed by scientology. And the last time the government in Moscow refused to register the church it eventually made its way to the European Court of Human Rights which sided with scientology.
Ultimately, this will likely end up in that same Court. Though sooner or later one of these actions will stick.
I have no idea what the laws are in Moscow or how competent the prosecutor’s office is. But you can be sure that if there are any mistakes they will be exploited and I suspect good lawyers will make the case for scientology, if not in Russia, then in Europe. They will claim they have been singled out and discriminated against, that this is religious bigotry etc etc It is going to be a matter of whether the Russian prosecutors are able to make a stronger legal argument.
Unfortunately, an immediate unintended consquence of this order is that the IAS has a brand new reason to squeeze money out of the sheeple: the SPs are running wild in Russia, threatening the very existence of scientology there and thus the fate of every man, woman and child in the largest country on earth. It will be the new rallying cry, and it has a ring of truth to it. Of course, the money won’t all be spent on lawyers, the local scientologists will be expected to cover their own legal costs – they are not allowed to ask for subsidies from “international management” without the executives being Comm Eved and removed from their positions. So, it will add to the scam of the IAS, but not much can be done about this.
But on the other side of this coin is the fact one of the weakest links in the scientology house of cards are the copyrights/trademarks. These have never really been challenged in the US (I am not talking Trade Secrets which is a different body of law and was what the mid 90’s litigation against Larry Wollersheim, Dennis Erlich, Keith Henson, Arnie Lerma et al centered around — the publication of the OT Levels).
The concept of trademarks in particular is pretty inimical to the concept of freedom of religion. Copyrights are less easily categorized, though I believe a good argument could be made that would overturn precedent set by the Christian Scientists on their copyrighted materials.
But let’s stick to Trademarks — which is where the Moscow court seems to have focused too. Realize this is a layman’s description and understanding and these are my thoughts. There are probably lawyers out there who could take me to task for my somewhat simplistic approach and description. I am trying to keep it simple even though I do understand this is a very complicated legal issue….
A Trademark is defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office as: A word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.
Pretty simple definition, and certainly scientology has a right to trademark anything they want as long as nobody else has registered it before them and it is not a generic term (some scientology trademarks are “weak” like “Purification Rundown” because those are fairly commonly used and understood terms, whereas a trademark like scientology is “strong” as there is no similar term in use).
But where this becomes far more complicated is when you add “religion” and “tax exemption” into the mix.
The constitution and its interpretation by courts through the last two centuries basically guarantees everyone in the US the right to practice the religion of their choice freely, as long as doing so breaks no others laws. So, if one were to hang out their shingle and claim they are practicing scientology without the approval of RTC, it would be an interesting battle of competing interests. I think the balance between protecting the rights of the trademark owner to shut you down if you are offering something that in their eyes dilutes the value of their mark (you don’t want inferior quality knock-offs ruining your brand — when you buy a Rolex watch with that brand and symbol you don’t want a Swatch with a Rolex name on it) and the right to practice your religion tips in favor of the freedom to practice. Because you have to enter another factor into the equation — economic loss. The theory is that intellectual properties (copyrights, trademarks and patents) protect the VALUE of something you created or own. That value is measurable in economic terms.
Scientology has a very thin, if not impossible, line to walk because to prosecute a claim for trademark infringement they would have to show economic harm. Copyrights are easier — the idea that someone cannot sell a bootleg copy of your movie or book is pretty easy to grasp. Same with a patent for the workings of an Emeter. People patents gadgets and machines every minute of every day. But what about patenting an “idea” or “image” which is really what a trademark is. And that idea or image is a “religion.” If scientology claims they suffer economic harm by the practice of scientology outside their zone of approval, they have essentially admitted they are running a BUSINESS that is seeking to make money. One would normally think that you would want your ideas of salvation spread as far and wide as you can possible get them and that one and all would be allowed to participate if the intent was to HELP people and not to simply monopolize an income stream.
And this position of protecting your income stream and the commercial nature of such a concept is anathema to tax exempt status.
This has not been litigated to a final result that I am aware of. It must be a big concern for scientology and explains why they have not filed any suits against “squirrels.” They know that if they confront a good legal team on the other side the issue will likely end up before the US Supreme Court and I suspect they do not like their odds. Losing the trademarks would be the ultimate black mark on Miscavige. And I think it would be the likely outcome.
I also believe that in litigation like this, the plaintiff loses. It would be pretty pointless to file a lawsuit against scientology to claim they were infringing your rights to practice your religion if they had done nothing to try and prevent you from doing so. But if scientology were to sue to try to enforce their trademarks and thus prevent someone from the practicing the religion of their choice, they would be seen as bullies and would end up with bad decisions like the recent one in the Texas Appeals court in the Monique Rathbun case.
Thus, it’s a sort of Mexican standoff, though every day RTC does NOT prosecute “infringers” weakens their position. You eventually lose protection from the law if you do nothing to properly protect your rights. Thus, this is a war of attrition that scientology utlimately loses.
But battle has been joined on this issue in Moscow. And it’s not a “squirrel” or an “aggrieved scientologist” that is the other party in this fight. It is the government. And that is a different beast. I dont have the time or resources to make a study of the law in Russia that applies to this case, but I suspect the basic concepts I have described above generally fit this scene.
This is not good territory for scientology to be fighting on. It is going to be interesting to see how this Moscow case plays out.