The Unreliability of Stories and Rumors by Apostates

The vast majority of false allegations put forward, primarily on the Internet, to attempt to stigmatize the Church of Scientology, have been concocted by a handful of disgruntled former Scientologists—apostates1—who commonly have “an ax to grind.”

Courts, scholars and objective and responsible government bodies routinely discard testimony by apostates of any religion because their credibility is always suspect, their anecdotal allegations inevitably motivated by personal interests, and their claims frequently fueled by greed to support outlandish and unwarranted demands in legal actions for monetary compensation from their former faiths.

It is unfortunate that some government officials and media continue to rely on discredited apostates to justify discriminatory policies against the Church of Scientology and its members. Virtually all punitive government actions targeting Scientology in the past decades were based on unsubstantiated anecdotal testimony from disgruntled apostates. When the evidence was finally reviewed by objective government officials or judicial bodies, the Church emerged completely vindicated while the false allegations of apostates were exposed and discredited.

Apostasy is a well-researched phenomenon in the field of religion and sociology, and leading scholars have devoted major studies to documenting the inherent unreliability of apostates’ allegations against their former religions.

“Neither the objective sociological researcher nor the court of law can readily regard the apostate as a creditable or reliable source of evidence. He must always be seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias…”

The late Dr. Bryan R. Wilson, long affiliated with Oxford University, was during his lifetime one of the world’s preeminent scholars of the sociology of new religions. He was a fellow and later reader emeritus of All Souls College at Oxford and the British Academy. He researched, published and lectured on religion and new religious movements around the world for 50 years and provided expert opinions on religion for the British House of Commons and the courts.

Professor Wilson noted that apostates of new religious movements generally crave self-justification by seeking to reconstruct their past to excuse their former affiliations, while blaming those who were formerly their closest associates. They must be regarded as inherently unreliable sources by government bodies, the judiciary and the media:

Neither the objective sociological researcher nor the court of law can readily regard the apostate as a creditable or reliable source of evidence. He must always be seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to both his previous religious commitment and affiliations, the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim but subsequently to have become a redeemed crusader. As various instances have indicated, he is likely to be suggestible and ready to enlarge or embellish his grievances to satisfy that species of journalist whose interest is more in sensational copy than in an objective statement of the truth.2

Another acclaimed expert, Dr. Lonnie Kliever, longtime professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, determined that the credibility of apostates is highly suspect. Dr. Kliever found that the overwhelming majority of individuals who exit from religions harbor no ill will toward their past religious associations and activities. However, there is invariably a much smaller number of disaffected individuals—apostates—who are deeply committed to discrediting and undertaking actions designed to denigrate and destroy the religious communities that once claimed their loyalties. In Dr. Kliever’s opinion, these apostates:

[P]resent a distorted view of the new religions to the public, the academy, and the courts by virtue of their ready availability and eagerness to testify against their former religious associations and activities. Such apostates always act out of a scenario that vindicates themselves by shifting responsibility for their actions to the religious group.… Such apostates can hardly be regarded as reliable informants by responsible journalists, scholars, or jurists.3

Courts and administrative bodies also routinely dismiss the anecdotal testimony of apostates as inherently unreliable.

The Italian Court of Cassation (the Supreme Court for Italy) issued a landmark ruling in October 1997 in which it recognized Scientology religious bona fides, a decision now regarded as part of the pivotal jurisprudence that sets the standard regarding the definition of religion throughout the European Union. In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court refused to rely on the testimony of apostates in determining that Scientology must be treated like other religions.

The Supreme Court questioned how a court could know that the opinion of disgruntled ex-members is representative of the larger population of ex-members. The Court therefore determined that the opinion of two, or even 20, apostates is hardly representative of what the average ex-member believes. The Court specifically noted the inherent unreliability of such witnesses, chastised the lower court for having relied upon two notorious apostates of the Church and overturned the ruling.4

Likewise, the Administrative Court of Stuttgart ruled against the German state of Baden-Württemberg in 1999, dismissing the reliability of the government’s key witness and questioning his credibility because he was a Scientology apostate subsequently trained by a Protestant center to publicly criticize the Church of Scientology.5

Moreover, in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) exemption proceedings in the early 1990s, false allegations of illegal activity raised by apostates that the IRS had previously relied upon to take adverse action against the Church and its parishioners were extensively investigated and dismissed as untrue by the IRS before recognizing that Churches of Scientology are religious charitable organizations operating for the public benefit.6

  1. An “apostate” is one who has abandoned one’s religious faith, a political party, one’s principles or a cause.
  2. Wilson, Bryan R., The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Rose of Sharon Press, 1981. Also in Wilson, Apostates and New Religious Movements.
  3. Kliever, Lonnie, “The Reliability of Apostate Testimony About New Religious Movements.” See also, Moss, A. “Apostasy and the Management of Spoiled Identity,” and Wright, Stuart A., “Exploring Factors That Shape the Apostate Role” in The Politics of Religious Apostasy, pp. 51–74 and pp. 95–114, Praeger Publishers. Bromley, David G. (ed.) (1998)
  4. See Bandera v. Italy, Supreme Court of Italy, case no. 1329, October 8, 1997.
  5. Administrative Court of Stuttgart, case no. 16 K 3182/98, November 17, 1999 decision.
  6. Church of Scientology IRS Tax Exemption.

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