News & Politics

Scientology Petition Meets Its Goal: Will Obama Wiggle Out of It? (UPDATED)


Just three days ago, we pointed out that a White House petition regarding Scientology had a long way to go to meet its Monday deadline of 5,000 signatures.

But a big surge in signatures pushed the petition past 5,000 last night.

And now, the Obama administration will apparently have to address the petition’s message: why did the FBI stop looking into Scientology’s reported abuse of its staff members?

Obama’s crew will make a statement, that is, if it doesn’t try to worm out of it by saying nothing at all. After the jump, we’ll explain what we mean.

In September, the White House launched an online petition process that had long been promised. According to the Wall Street Journal, the system at has been swamped with 10,000 petitions.

Currently, the petition with the most signatures (70,354) is “Legalize and Regulate Marijuana Similar to Alcohol.” In second place, with 50,349 signatures, is an appeal to look into “misconduct” in the prosecution of Brooklyn kosher meat king Sholom Rubashkin (a story we covered in depth three years ago).

As of this writing, the Scientology petition, which was started on September 24 by Graham Berry, has 5,390 signatures, more than enough to meet the threshold of 5,000 votes which the White House set when it started the program.

But, as the WSJ article points out, the online system was hit with so many petitions that easily and quickly met the 5,000-signature threshold, the White House recently moved the goalposts: now petitions will need to gather 25,000 signatures to meet their goal and merit an official response from the Obama administration.

“The White House double crosses us!” Berry wrote at his Facebook account when he realized that the threshold had been changed.

But he calmed down when word went around that petitions that had already started under the 5,000 threshold would continue to have that goal. The Scientology petition, in other words, was grandfathered and didn’t need to meet the 25,000-signature minimum.

“Thresholds are subject to change, but changes will not be applied retroactively,” is how the White House site puts it.

Still, there’s been no official word on how the Scientology petition will be reckoned, and while we’re trying to get through to someone at the White House about it, we’ll just have to wait and see what sorts of responses other petitions get — Obama’s people are supposed to begin putting out responses next week to the first petitions that made their threshold.

Skip Press goes a-hunting

Meanwhile, another story popped up today that we found very intriguing. At the Morton Report, screenwriting coach and former Scientologist Skip Press noticed that something odd is happening in the world of self-publishing.

A company that calls itself “Author Solutions” has been buying up vanity publishers like XLibris and AuthorHouse and is quickly becoming the place that most self-publishers will need to go to when they want to get a book out. “Author Solutions,” Press points out, sounds a lot like Scientology’s entity, Author Services Inc., which publishes all of L. Ron Hubbard’s work at massive in-house publishing plants. Besides the echo in the name, Press found that some of the people involved have very interesting ties to Scientology.

Could the church be trying to take over the world of self-publishing?

As Press points out, we here at the Voice have noted that a big headache for church leader David Miscavige has been the flurry of books self-published by former members. Books by Amy Scobee, Jefferson Hawkins, Marc Headley, Nancy Many and others have changed the way Scientology is viewed, and has put a new focus on allegations that staff members, in particular, suffer startling levels of abuse.

Skip admits that he’s only begun to peel back the layers on this story, and we hope he keeps digging. This is interesting stuff.

Rights, Wrongs, and the Church of Scientology

From Marty Rathbun‘s blog, meanwhile, comes another fascinating development for Scientology watchers.

Rathbun reveals that in Seattle, Scientology will be sponsoring a talk by Kareem W. Shora, a senior policy advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which is part of Homeland Security.

Scientology’s flyer suggests that the event, to be held next Wednesday, will feature Scientology’s own “human rights” campaign.

As we wrote earlier, the Scientology campaign promotes the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt had a hand in developing back in 1948. It’s an excellent document, but Scientology’s ad campaign promotes it with vague references to problems overseas. It’s a slick way to change the focus from rights questions right here at home — which include allegations that Sea Org members, for example, have been forced to have abortions, that both children and adults work insane hours for pennies an hour in ways that tend to benefit the church and its leaders, and that families are routinely split up under Scientology’s policies of “disconnection.”

Apparently, Scientology is doing so well at distracting the government with its slick ad campaign, Homeland Security has decided to lend a hand directly.

If any of our faithful correspondents are able to attend the event next week, we’d be grateful to hear how it goes.

UPDATE: Gawker’s John Cook is on the case, and finds that the feds won’t be taking part in this “rights” event after all.

Writes Cook:

When we contacted DHS to confirm the engagement, and inquire as to why it would be dispatching a federal employee to address an event sponsored by an organization that’s the current target of an FBI human trafficking investigation, a spokesman told us in a statement that Shora would not, in fact, be attending.

In fact, Cook writes, it appears that the feds may have realized they’d been invited under misleading circumstances. The request for Shora to speak had been extended by something called “Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster,” and it may not have been obvious that it was part of Scientology:

So how did DHS confuse a Scientology invite with a WVOAD invite? Maybe because the president of WVOAD is one David Scattergood of “Church of Scientology Disaster Response.” The Washington Church of Scientology did not return phone messages.

Scientology and its front groups. It’s like the church was actually trying to confuse people.

The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#6: Anonymous
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church’s HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church’s other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.

@VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega


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