The Church of Scientology has leveled a barrage of lawsuits at one of its most persistent critics, the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), which CAN officials say is part of an organized plan to destroy the organization.

During one 48-hour period last October, 20 suits were filed against CAN by members of the Church of Scientology, most alleging religious discrimination by the anticult group for not allowing Scientologists to join.

Currently, CAN faces about 35 lawsuits, the number growing almost weekly, and filed in courts across the country, says executive director Cynthia Kisser. Though the suits have been filed by different individuals, all identify themselves as members of the Church of Scientology, the religious organization founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard, author of Dianetics. Many complaints contain identical wording. None has been argued in court yet.

“The Church of Scientology is backing the suits,” Kisser says, “trying to bring us to bankruptcy, or to find the right court to rule in their favor and allow them to take over from within.”

Can anyone join?

The Scientologists contend that because CAN is a tax-exempt organization, it must allow anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, to join. The lawsuits have come in response to CAN’s “systematic discrimination” against Scientologists, says Mary Anne Ahmad, director of public affairs for the Church of Scientology of Illinois. The main issue being pressed in the legal actions, she says, is religious freedom.

Ahmad said that the similar wording of the complaints was very likely the result of the individuals consulting the same attorneys, who would be familiar with such cases. She has no knowledge of how or if the church is involved in the suits.

However, Scientologists do ...

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