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Rally Against Huge Damage Award : Scientologists Cast Protest as Defense of All Religion

May 23, 1985|PETER H. KING | Times Staff Writer

The theory was formulated by Hubbard, author of "Typewriter in the Sky" and other works of science fiction, in addition to books about his mind science, called Dianetics.

Although $20 million in punitive damages was levied against Hubbard by the jury here, he was not present during the trial and, in fact, has not been seen in public for several years. There was an unsuccessful attempt started three years ago to prove that Hubbard was either dead or mentally incompetent and that a church faction was draining his estate.

But, if Hubbard was not present in body, he was here in other ways. Stories were told about past Hubbard victories, and Hubbard utterances were recollected. A bust of him was kept at stage front during rallies. A huge picture of him smiling from beneath a jaunty yachtsman's cap was hung overhead.

At breaks in the demonstrations, the Scientologists would rise from their blankets on the grass and, turning to the bust, chant, "Hip, Hip, Hooray . . . "

Titchbourne had been awarded $2 million in 1979, but the state Court of Appeal overturned the decision, saying that the courts should address only non-religious activities of the Scientologists.

After another 10-week trial, jurors affirmed that the Scientology courses offered to Titchbourne were "offered to her on a wholly non-religious basis." They ruled also that fraud had occurred, along with "wanton misconduct."

General damages of $3,203.20 were awarded, along with $39 million in punitive damages.

Scientology leaders contend that it was wrong to ask a jury to decide what was religious and what was secular. They argued that, as a result, their religious beliefs essentially were put on trial.

Some experts in church-state law interviewed this week agreed. "It's a monstrous injustice," said Franklin Littell, a professor of religion at Temple University and a Methodist clergyman. "It's an effort to kill the Church of Scientology, and it shouldn't have been in the court in the first place."

However, the Jewish-Christian Assn. of Oregon, representing 13 Christian denominations and most Jewish congregations and associations, on Wednesday issued a statement saying that the Constitution "does not grant any organization or other religious groups the right to act irresponsibly or in violation of the legal right of others."

John Peterson, a Scientology attorney, said that a motion for mistrial would be filed with Circuit Court Judge Donald Londer on Friday.

Some lawyers pointed out that this state has had dealings, at times with great acrimony, with followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and they interpreted the large punitive award as a possible backlash against unorthodox religion in general.

Oregonians seem to have taken the presence of the Scientologists in stride. The Scientologists have applied for and received numerous permits in conjunction with their activities.

Police presence has been kept at a minimum, although the Scientologists seem inundated with their own security personnel, all of whom are equipped with walkie talkies.

There have been few incidents, an exception occurring on the steps of the state Capitol Tuesday, when a man in a motorized wheelchair cut a swath through the assembled Scientologists.

As state police escorted him away, he kept shouting: "They aren't even from Oregon!"

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