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"Sell and Deliver"

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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
"Sell and Deliver"
The judge in the Belgian trial of Scientology pressed a former president of the Church there on the movement's sales tactics.

Judge Yves Régimont had already questioned Stéphane J.* on why it appeared to be so difficult to leave Scientology. Now he turned to the Church’s sales tactics.

People had explained to him the use of the e-meter, the device used in Scientology’s form of counselling, he said. But what concerned him more was it price.

Back in the 1990s you could buy one for around 24,000 Belgian francs (600 euros), he noted: but some former plaintiffs in the case had complained that they had been obliged to buy models costing 200,000 Belgian francs (nearly 50,000 euros).

“I never forced anyone to buy anything they didn’t want,” said Stéphane. “I never obliged anyone to buy anything if they didn’t want to.”

“And if they didn’t have the money to buy something?” asked the judge.

“I would look at solutions, including taking out a loan if one was available," he replied.

“And why not say to them, ‘Look, everyone wants something, but – ’”

“ – It is the decision of the person,” said Stéphane. And if the person said they didn’t want a loan, then he accepted that.

“If you say to them ‘You have got to this stage and you still have problems,’” said the judge. If someone had started up the Bridge to Total Freedom and still has psychological problems, he asked, would you not be saying to them that if they wanted to advance then they had to take this course?

“Technically, you don’t say you have to take this loan," the judge continued. "But when you put it like that, is there not still a pressure? I’m sure that all the people in Scientology want to progress, but there is a difference between the will and the means.

“So is it not by titillating … someone that you take this person unconsciously by the hand to get them to pay for a service?” the Judge Régimont asked.

No, said Stéphane. All they did was set out the possible options. “The parishioner decides if he wants to take the service, and if he has not got the money, we will help him find solutions. It is the parishioner who decides what he wants to do,” he insisted.

“I am there to help people, and I know that the Bridge to Total Freedom is the solution,” he added. “We are not in a society where everything is free, so when we have to discuss money, we discuss money.”

“But as Mr. Hubbard says, the more people, the more money,” Judge Régimont replied.

“He says the more people you get into Scientology the better society will be,” said Stéphane.

“You and others have been saying that it is the progress of the person that counts,” the judge continued. “Their progress up the Bridge to Total Freedom.”

But when he looked at the instructions that Hubbard had left behind, he added, it was not that that counted. He quoted from a policy letter written by Hubbard:


“The last line is the important one,” said Stéphane.

“I’m sorry,” the judge replied, exasperated, “but the important stuff, you put at the top.” The only reason the orgs [Scientology centres, organisations] exist is to sell and provide materials and services to the public, he repeated. That was the thrust of it, said the judge.

“No,” Stéphane objected. There was not just one aspect. There was the broader aim of Scientology. “We are there to bring people up the Bridge, and to do that we have to sell books and services to the public. The most important thing is that the public is up the Bridge as quickly and correctly as possible.”

“The only aim is to get people up the Bridge," the defendant insisted.

Judge Régimont quoted another Hubbard policy letter:

[N]o org that doesn’t sell books hard [sic] can long survive. This is the front line and its neglect causes the later financial troubles. (2)

“Mr. Hubbard says 25 books make a Scientologist,” Stéphane replied. So the more books you sell the public, the better, he said.

The judge tried him with another Hubbard quote, this one about the importance of creating more Field Staff Members, or FSMs: Scientologists who sell good and services to other members, taking a commission on their sales.

Stéphane did not see what the problem was: the more Field Staff members there were, the more books would be sold, he said. And Scientologists needed advice on their way up the Bridge.

In any case, said the judge: what was clear was that for a church to function properly it had to bring in money. He cited another Hubbard policy letter that set out instructions on how to get a student who was off lines – no longer doing courses – back on lines.

“These are not documents that I invented,” said the judge. These were not comments from the investigating judge, the investigators, the prosecutors. These were internal Scientology documents.

“Perhaps I don’t understand them – it is entirely possible – but me, when I see them, I have trouble reading anything other than what is there.” What then, the judge asked Stéphane, was the ultimate aim of the Bridge so far as he was concerned?

“The only aim is to get people up the Bridge,” Stéphane replied. And so far as the Scientology documents the judge had cited were concerned, he had not seen anything there where the law was being broken, he added.

“If you take it document by document you are perhaps right,” said the judge. “But if you take it as a whole…” he added. The prosecutor was arguing that Scientology was a business, that it was essentially about making money, he explained. The defence position was that this was nonsense, the judge added.

“He has the first word and you have the last,” he said. But if what the prosecutor said was true, then at that point the defendants had a problem.

“Do you understand the importance I put on hearing what you have to say?” the judge asked. “I have some elements of the puzzle, but perhaps I am missing a few.”

And with that, the court adjourned for lunch.

* While Belgian law allows me to identify the defendants, most of the news media here choose not to do that. After consulting with local colleagues, I was told that the convention is to wait until the judgment. It seems reasonable to respect that practice.

(1) This passage is from “The Reason for Orgs”, a Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter dated January 31, 1983.

(2) This passage is from “Field Staff Members” another Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, this one dated March 26, 1965.

Palais de Justice, by unknown photographer; public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

#Scientology, #Belgium, #trial