How Scientology Works

Scientology Controversies
David Miscavige followed L. Ron Hubbard to become chairman of the Board Religious Technology Center and ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion. Church of Scientology/Getty Images

Scientology has grown exponentially since its founding, counting among its members such celebrities as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. But with success comes exposure. Ten years after granting it tax-exempt status in 1957, the IRS revoked it, saying that in its view, Scientology was really a commercial organization created to garner profit for Hubbard. The Church of Scientology challenged this ruling many times, but for the next 25 years, the decision was upheld. Finally, in 1993, the IRS once again granted Scientology its tax-free status [source: Frantz]. It was a triumph that Hubbard did not live to see. He died in 1986 and the church was taken over by a man named David Miscavige.

But before his death, Hubbard's wife Mary Sue Hubbard was among 11 high-ranking members indicted by the U.S. attorney on 28 charges of conspiracy in 1978. The charges were based on a five-year investigation dubbed Operation Snow White, which turned up internal church documents outlining campaigns to harass its numerous critics, government officials and agents [source: Robinson]. A year later, nine of the 11 church members pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

After its own deep investigation, in 1997 The New York Times alleged that the Church of Scientology, under Miscavige's leadership, conducted a kind of cold war against the IRS and deployed underhanded tactics to obtain its status. There's evidence to suggest, for instance, that the church hired private investigators to look into the lives of individual IRS employees to find vulnerabilities that could be exploited. One way or another, many tax experts were stunned by the IRS's unexpected decision.

More controversy has pursued Scientology since then, including multiple indictments and convictions for church leaders around the globe. Some ex-members, including its former executive director of special affairs and chief spokesperson, Mike Rinder, also claim to have been psychologically abused and exploited by the church's leadership. In 2013, Leah Remini, one of the stars of the TV comedy, "The King of Queens," publicly quit the church. Remini had been raised as a Scientologist but felt that she could no longer remain loyal to the institution.

In 2015, she published a book called, "Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology," which, in part, chronicled her experiences with the religion. Then, in 2016, she joined teams with Rinder for the docuseries on A&E, in which they traveled the country interviewing ex-Scientologists, some of whom allege experiencing a range of traumas from physical and emotional forms of abuse to statutory rape [source: Gilbert].

Also in 2015, HBO presented a documentary called "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief," based on a book by Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. The documentary goes into extensive detail about Hubbard, Miscavige and an alleged church culture of power-mongering, greed and authoritarianism [source: Gilbert].

Controversy also surrounds the financial price of being a Scientologist. Auditing, which is required for all members — is not free, and can cost up to $800 an hour [source: Nededog]. Training — another requirement of being a Scientologist — also comes at a steep price. In her A&E docuseries, Remini explained that that there are 12 basic books in Scientology, which costs about $4,000. But members must buy the books again and again whenever they've been updated. Remini said in her 35 years as a Scientologist, she spent"millions" [source: Nededog].

And then there's that Bridge to Total Freedom. Remini said on her series that courses cost about $650 each, and there are hundreds of courses to reach the top.