Blogger: Scientology group asks followers to censor Web comments

The Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise split apparently has had a negative effect on the Church of Scientology, and a faction of the church is calling for members to take action and silence naysayers.

The campaign also comes as an entire mission for the church has defected from under the leadership of David Miscavige, reports the Village Voice. Leader Dani Lemberger of Israel's Dror Center, in Haifa, told Voice blogger Tony Ortega that his mission is one of the few that are still growing and announced that it is rejecting Miscavige's leadership.

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It is the "first time in memory" that an entire mission has announced that it is leaving the church, Ortega said.

Former Scientologist and current anti-Scientologist blogger Marty Rathbun posted an email message instructing followers on how to "counter free speech on the internet." Rathbun claims that the email comes from the church's Office of Special Affairs, otherwise known as the "dirty tricks and propaganda arm of Scientology Inc." The email message begins:

I am not a big fan of media, but you may have glanced the news of the split between TC and Holmes and all the speculations around. While this is a personal matter, when people start to bring our religion into the middle and a bunch of uninformed people start to spread false datum, rumors and defame our religion it became a matter that does affect my Dynamics and I believe that affects yours as well.

The message instructs followers to visit media sites, including Microsoft, Google or any other that requires users to agree to a code of conduct that prohibits comments that threaten, defame or degrade any group or individuals.

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Followers should hunt for any comments about the Cruise-Holmes divorce, click the "Report" tag, and report the comments as violations of the site's code of conduct, the email instructs.

You can write something like "Violate Your Code of Conduct". 'defames or degrades a group for any reason including on the basis of religion.'

The author of the email notes that if only one person does it, the news site moderators won't act. Thus, the email says, "if you start to have 10 or 20 people reporting it, they are going to take this down."

Blogger Rathbun notes that the attempt to censor website comments is like showing up to a nuclear war with a squirt gun.

When will David Miscavige (supreme leader of corporate Scientology and Tom Cruise's best man) ever learn that attempts to suppress communication and expression only make more news than the news he attempts to censor?

Church of Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw rejected Rathbun comments. In an email sent to Yahoo!, she said the email he cited was not from the church.

"This did not come from the Church or anyone associated with the Church, nor is it a Church plan," Pouw wrote. "The Church of Scientology International Office of Special Affairs is responsible for public affairs and calling it a 'dirty tricks' and 'propaganda arm' is offensive."

She goes on to write that "Marty Rathbun is a defrocked apostate removed from any position in the Church for malfeasance nearly eight years ago and has no firsthand knowledge of its activities."

Contacted by phone later, Pouw declined to comment further and would not speak on the record about the Office of Special Affairs or other details mentioned in the email Rathbun references.

Rathbun, according to an article by The Independent and linked from his blog, was a church member for 27 years and was acquainted with celebrity members, including Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley, before leaving in 2004. Since then he has become an outspoken critic of the church.

Meanwhile, the Church of Scientology is also facing several high-profile defections in the wake of the Cruise-Holmes divorce, as well as the high-profile lawsuits accusing Travolta of making inappropriate sexual advances.

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Lisa Marie Presley reportedly has parted with the church, said Fox News. After moving to the English countryside, she told the network, she began second-guessing "everything and everyone I knew. ... People that were in my life for a long time turned sinister and tried to control me and all kinds of weird stuff happened."

Jefferson Hawkins, a former executive with the church, told Fox that he expects more defections.

"A lot of celebrities are starting to wake up," Hawkins told Fox. "You don't see the big celebrities promoting it anymore. Even Tom has been pretty quiet on the subject over the last few years."