By Gary Klien
A Marin judge refused to hold a former San Anselmo man in contempt yesterday for his long-standing war of words against the Church of Scientology.
Church attorneys filed a contempt motion against Gerald Armstrong, a former Scientology archivist, for persistently violating a judge's order in 1995 to stop criticizing the church and discussing his experiences as an employee there. As evidence, church attorneys submitted a sheaf of messages Armstrong had posted in Internet discussion groups between March 1998 and July of this year.
The messages, most of which were posted on the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup, include bilious exchanges between church members and Armstrong - who refers to his former employer as the "Church of $cientology."
"There is a collision course between $cientology's determination to dominate, and thus in some way, imprison, people, and the people's determination to have all men free," Armstrong wrote on Sept. 10, 1999. "Very stupid of $cientology to be on the wrong side of this battle."
But Judge Vernon Smith yesterday rejected the church's motion for a contempt citation, saying the judge who issued the original order, Gary Thomas, is long retired, and the church had failed to explain why Smith himself should issue a contempt order.
"The court has overwhelming evidence to hold him in contempt," protested Andrew Wilson, the church's Sausalito-based attorney.
"I'm not convinced of that," Smith said. But he continued the matter until next Wednesday, giving church attorneys a chance to file more briefs in support of their argument.
Armstrong, who now lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, was not present at the hearing. But reached by telephone yesterday, he described Smith's action as "really cool."
"I'm really glad that a judge has taken note of the fact that Scientology is not what they're representing it to be," said Armstrong, 54. "This is an extraordinary time in my history."
The bitter feud between Armstrong and the church is now entering its third decade. Armstrong split with the church in 1981 after more than 12 years as a researcher and archivist for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
In 1986, the church paid $800,000 to settle a civil suit filed by Armstrong, who claimed he was being harassed by church leaders. The settlement required Armstrong to stop divulging information he gained as a highly placed church insider.
In 1992, the church sued Armstrong over his remarks in a CNN interview and a sworn statement he gave to another group of people suing the church. In 1995, Judge Thomas ordered Armstrong to pay the church $100,000 for violating the settlement, then signed a permanent injunction forcing Armstrong to honor the settlement.
The injunction was the central issue in yesterday's contempt motion. Church attorneys have filed 131 Internet postings showing Armstrong had relentessly flouted the Marin courts.
Armstong, during an interview yesterday, did not deny writing the Internet messages. If anything, he said, the church understated his output.
"My count was 2,289," he said.
Armstrong also insists the 1986 agreement does not trump his First Amendment rights.
"I settled my lawsuit against them for 12 and half years of lies and deceit and abuse," he said. "I did not settle with them to become a punching bag of the Church of Scientology."
Scientology was founded in the early 1950s when Hubbard, a prolific novelist and Hollywood writer, published "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health." Adherents describe the book as a guide to self-improvement and an approach to "problems of the mind," including insanity, crime and war.
The official Church of Scientology's Web site describes the movement as "an applied religious[sic] philosophy" with the goal of bringing an individual to a "sufficient understanding of himself and his life and free him to improve conditions in the way that he sees fit."
The religion[sic] is now practiced in more than 30 languages in 129 countries on six continents, according to the Web site. Among its prominent adherents in the United States are actors John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley.
Hubbard died in 1986 at the age of 74.
Brought to you by The Marin Independent Journal