Gifts of cash fuel battle of
Hub man's aid to Scientology critics draws fire and rhetoric
By Diego Ribadeneira, Globe Staff
retired Beacon Hill
investment banker has provided $1.25 million to critics of the Church of
Scientology, triggering harsh denunciations from church members, who have
handed out leaflets to the banker's neighbors accusing him of using ''KKK-style''
Robert Minton said he decided to fund church critics because he believes
Scientology abuses some of its members and uses unfair, strong-arm tactics
to intimidate its detractors.
Minton, who is not a Scientologist, became aware of the church's activities
through the Internet. He said he does not question Scientology's beliefs.
But, he added, ''I am trying in a rather helpful way to force this organization
to reform. If they want to be a good member of the world's religious communities,
then they need to act like one.''
Minton's tangle with the Church of Scientology began more than two years
ago after the church took legal action against several people who were
posting internal church documents on the Internet. The church charged that
the postings violated copyright laws.
Minton, who says he viewed the struggle as a free speech issue, was
alarmed at what he considered the extremes to which the church would go
to quash dissent. He became one of many activists around the world campaigning
for change within the Church of Scientology.
Eventually, Minton said, he decided to ''put my money where my mouth
was and help individuals and organizations who were having problems with
Earlier this year, Minton contributed $100,000 to plaintiffs in a Florida
lawsuit filed against the church involving the death two years ago of a
Scientologist, Lisa McPherson.
The lawsuit, filed by McPherson's estate, charges the church with holding
the 36-year-old woman against her will while she slipped into a coma and
eventually died. An autopsy revealed that McPherson died of a blood clot
caused by severe dehydration. Florida authorities are conducting a criminal
investigation into her death.
Minton said he donated the $100,000 because the church had a formidable
defense team and had greater resources than the plaintiffs.
Last week, Minton took part in a demonstration in front of the church's
religious headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., marking the two-year anniversary
of McPherson's death. Minton said he has pledged to provide an additional
$250,000 to help finance the Florida lawsuit against the church.
He also has provided money to former Scientologists in Washington state
and an anti-Scientology activist in California.
Church officials accuse Minton of harboring hatred toward Scientology
and attempting to foment internal dissent. On Friday while Minton was in
Florida, several church members passed out fliers on Beacon Hill with his
picture, denouncing him.
Frank Ofman, a spokesman for the Boston-area branch of the Church of
Scientology, said church members distributed the leaflets to highlight
''The face of religious bigotry your neighbor, Robert Minton is not
all what he seems,'' read the fliers, which were not identified as coming
from the Church of Scientology. ''This week he is leading a KKK-style rally
against peaceful members of a religion. When he's not stirring up hatred
in the streets, Minton is poisoning the Internet by filling it full of
religious bigotry and intolerance.''
''I don't mind people picketing but handing out these leaflets is a
little bit unethical,'' Minton said.
Church officials acknowledged that they have conducted their own investigation
into Minton's funding practices. ''This is an extremely shady character
because he covertly engages in a campaign to harm our religion,'' said
Kurt Weiland, director of external affairs for the church. ''It's immoral
and quite frankly perverse.''
In addition to helping fund the Florida lawsuit, Minton two months ago
purchased a $260,000 home outside Seattle for two former Scientology members
who run a cat shelter in west Seattle.
The couple, Vaughn and Stacy Young, who have testified against the church
in several court cases, claim they were evicted from their home after their
landlord was pressured by Scientology officials.
Minton also contributed $5,000 to a defense fund set up for Dennis Erlich,
a California man who has been accused by the Church of Scientology of posting
internal church documents on the Internet.
The Church of Scientology, which claims among its members Hollywood
stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise, has been a lightning rod for criticism
since its founding 43 years ago by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
Critics say the church charges exorbitant fees to members who take Scientology
courses and tries to harass its foes into silence by, among other things,
hiring private detectives to dig into their private lives.
Last month, Elliot J. Abelson, a Los Angeles attorney representing the
Church of Scientology, wrote Minton a scathing letter.
''You are ... fostering a climate of hatred'' toward the church, the
letter said. ''The church will not tolerate such conduct. I demand that
you immediately withdraw all financial support for such matters and am
warning that you and those you're funding have crossed the threshold of
After consulting with his attorneys at Hale and Dorr, Minton did not
respond to Abelson's letter. ''What I was doing was protected free speech,''
The church's vocal attacks against Minton are typical, said religious
scholars who study the Church of Scientology.
''If you take them on, you have to be ready for a battle,'' said James
T. Richardson, a professor of religion and judicial studies at the University
of Nevada at Reno.
''The church is very aggressive in court and out of court,'' said J.
Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion,
an independent research organization based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Richardson noted that Scientology, far more than any other new religious
movement, has been targeted by anti-cult activists. ''There is really a
lot at stake in terms of the right of minority religions to practice their
faith and even exist in some countries,'' Richardson said.
But, Melton said, Scientology's tactics have given them a black eye.
''They have a tendency to fight until they win and to try and punish their
opponents,'' he said.
This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 12/09/97.
1997 Globe Newspaper Company.