When Scientologists divorce

ABC News looks at…wait a minute…Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced?  Why isn’t this getting more media attention?!? 

The divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, both bold-faced names and members of the Church of Scientology, shines a light on one aspect of their religion.

For many of the world’s religions, the rituals surrounding divorce are as structured as those governing marriage. Jews seeking a divorce must sign a ritual contract. Mormons married in the temple must undergo a “sealing cancellation.” In some Muslim sects, witnesses must be present for a divorce, and in others a husband recites a formula of denunciation three times to end a marriage.

The Church of Scientology, however, is much clearer on the rituals and practices of marriage than it is on divorce, according to experts and the church’s own official website.

Rather than focus on divorce, the church concentrates on improving couples’ relationships through therapy.

“Church members believe that tension in a marriage comes from ‘overts’ and ‘withholds,’ unstated, undiscussed issues or problems,” said Stephen Kent, a religion professor at the University of Alberta.

“Communication is therefore a good way to rebuild a marriage that’s crumbling. Couples can take a course called How to ‘Improve Your Marriage’ and in dire situations auditors, or counselors, can lead couples through exercises,” he said.

“There’s no real annulment in the church. Many members have been divorced, even founder L. Ron Hubbard was married three times,” Kent said.

The church does not allow members to have contact with disconnected, or excommunicated members of the faith, making divorce inevitable sometimes when one spouse wants to continue in the faith and another wants to leave the church, according to Kent.

“If one person wants to stay in church, he can’t have contact with someone who holds doubts or criticism of the group. The doubter is called a PTS, potential trouble source.”

Holmes reportedly left the marriage – and now seeks sole custody – over fears that Cruise wanted to enroll their six-year-old daughter in the infamous Sea Organization, and now believes Scientology goons are following her around.  This is completely plauisble:

So much for that narrative

Bloggers sometimes refer to a “48-hour rule,” which states that people should hold off making sweeping judgments about a news story until sufficient time has passed for all the facts to be known.  The face-eater case from Florida, supposedly a warning about the effects of “bath salts,” suggests that we should make that a 48-day rule:

Authorities may never know why a Florida man viciously attacked and chewed on the face of an older homeless man in Miami last month after lab tests failed to find components of “bath salts” in the system of the assailant, who was killed by police.

The tests detected only marijuana in the system of the attacker, the medical examiner said Wednesday, ruling out other street drugs that some had speculated 31-year-old Rudy Eugene might have taken.

An expert on toxicology testing said marijuana alone wasn’t likely to cause behavior as strange as Eugene’s.

“The problem today is that there is an almost an infinite number of chemical substances out there that can trigger unusual behavior,” said Dr. Bruce Goldberger, Professor and Director of Toxicology at the University of Florida.

Goldberger said the medical examiner’s office in Miami is known for doing thorough work and he’s confident they and the independent lab covered as much ground as possible. But it’s nearly impossible for toxicology testing to keep pace with new formulations of synthetic drugs.


The department ruled out the most common components found in so-called bath salts, which mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine and have been associated with bizarre crimes in recent months. An outside forensic toxicology lab, which took a second look at the results, also confirmed the absence of bath salts, synthetic marijuana and LSD.

Does anyone else find it even more unnerving, that there’s a guy out there who didn’t need bath salts to start eating a guy’s face?

Update: “The Bath Salt Panic Wall of Shame.”

If it’s too good to be true…

A proposed Egyptian law that would allow a man to have “farewell intercourse” with his late wife for up to six hours after her death is the perfect symbol of how that country has deteriorated since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.  It’s also, according to the Christian Science Monitor, complete nonsense:

It was soon mentioned in an English language version of Al-Arabiya and immediately started zipping around social-networking sites. By this afternoon it had set news sites and the rest of the Internet on fire. It has every thing: The yuck factor, “those creepy Muslims” factor, the lulz factor for those with a sick sense of humor. The non-fact-checked Daily Mail picked it up and reported it as fact. Then Andrew Sullivan, who has a highly influential blog but is frequently lax about fact-checking, gave it a boost with an uncritical take. TheHuffington Postwent there, too.

There’s of course one problem: The chances of any such piece of legislation being considered by the Egyptian parliament for a vote is zero. And the chance of it ever passing is less than that. In fact, color me highly skeptical that anyone is even trying to advance a piece of legislation like this through Egypt’s parliament. I’m willing to be proven wrong. It’s possible that there’s one or two lawmakers completely out of step with the rest of parliament. Maybe.

But extreme, not to mention inflammatory claims, need at minimum some evidence (and I’ve read my share of utter nonsense in Al Ahram over the years). The evidence right now? Zero.

There was a Moroccan cleric a few years back who apparently did issue a religious ruling saying that husbands remained married to their wives in the first six hours after death and, so, well, you know. But that guy is far, far out on the nutty fringe. How fringe? He also ruled that pregnant women can drink alcohol. Remember, alcohol is considered haram, forbidden, by the vast majority of the world’s Muslim scholars. Putting an unborn child at risk to get drunk? No, that’s just not what they do. Whatever the mainstream’s unpalatable beliefs (there are plenty from my perspective) this isn’t one of them.

It’s important to remember that the structure of the Muslim clergy is, by and large, like that of a number of Protestant Christian sects. Anyone can put out a shingle and declare themselves a preacher. The ones to pay attention to are the ones with large followings, or attachment to major institutions of Islamic learning. The preacher in Morocco is like the preacher in Florida who spent so much time and energy publicizing the burning of Qurans.

Related: 5 Clearly Fake News Stories That Fooled the Media.

George Zimmerman’s lawyers have withdrawn from the case:

Apparently George Zimmerman called Sean Hannity on his own, and hasn’t told his lawyers what they talked about.

In their announcement, they’re clearly agitated by Zimmerman’s media strategy (namely, the fact that he’s been talking publicly at all).

“It’s his right to talk to whoever he wants to…”

The lawyers have left the door open to future representation if he comes back to them.

The lawyers are making clear that Zimmerman hasn’t fled. They have a pretty good idea where he is, they say.

It really does seem to come down to the fact that the lawyers can’t represent a guy who’s not talking to his lawyers, but IS communicating through the media without consultation.

On George Zimmerman setting up his own website: “I wish he would have told me.”

Can’t say I blame them.

Update: Doug Mataconis does blame them for holding a press conference and revealing information they should have kept to themselves.

Excellent piece by Doug Mataconis about rushing to judgment in the awful Trayvon Martin case:

There is a disturbing tendency in high profile criminal cases for the public, egged on by the constant media coverage and the incessant drone of the talking heads, to rush to judgment long before it’s warranted. We saw it happen in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case only to see those charges dismissed when the accuser’s credibility collapsed like a house of cards. We saw it happen in with Richard Jewell, who was hounded, tried, and convicted, by the media of the Centennial Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 only to be completely cleared of all charges. It happened to former Reagan Administration Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan, who was charged on multiple racketeering counts only to be acquitted, at which point he famously asked “Where do I go to get my reputation back?” It happened to the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey, who spent years being accused int he public of their daughters brutal rape and murder even though the evidence linking them to the crime was as flimsy as possible. It’s happened to people who aren’t famous too, of course. Just ask Cory Maye or Cameron Todd Willingham. Of course, Willingham might not answer because Texas executed him for a crime he didn’t commit.

Rather than rushing to judgment in this case, or any other, we ought to be letting the legal system do its work instead of allowing the Al Sharpton’s of the world to exploit a young man’s tragic death for their own nefarious agendas. For nearly a month, of course, the legal system wasn’t working for Trayvon Martin’s parents, which is why sometimes it is necessary to raise a protest in order to get action to be taken. But, we’re at the point now where action is being taken. The Justice Department is investigating, there’s a Grand Jury being convened. And until there’s a trial and a jury reaches a verdict, George Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Shouldn’t we all just back off on judging the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman based on incomplete evidence and let the system do its job?

I think the answer has to be yes, because the only other alternative is mob justice.

Sadly, neither Trayvon Martin supporters nor George Zimmerman supporters have covered themselves in glory this past week.

Review: “You Can’t Read This Book” by Nick Cohen

(Originally posted, in slightly different form, at Canadian Lawyer)

Britain’s plaintiff-friendly libel laws are so infamous, they’ve even inspired a gag on South Park.  In the notorious “Trapped in the Closet” episode, young Stan Marsh – thought to be the reincarnation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard – announces that the “religion” is a giant scam.  Scientologist Tom Cruise, furious at this gross insult to his faith, declares, “I’ll sue you – in England!
The real-life punchine: “Trapped in the Closet” did not air on British television, because of the very real possibility that Cruise would successfully sue any broadcaster who tried.
A 2002 Vanity Fair article about a legendary New York restaurant, Elaine’s, was neither written by a Brit nor published in Britain, but that didn’t stop film director Roman Polanski from successfully suing the magazine for an allegedly defamatory anecdote included in the piece. (Supposedly, he was trying to pick up women at Elaine’s shortly after the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate. A jury found that this was devastating to Polanski’s reputation, which had been completely unsullied until the magazine came out.)
And then there’s Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz, who used the British courts to sue American author Rachel Ehrenfeld over allegations in her book about terrorism financing – which had never been published in Britain.  Or Holocaust-denying “historian” David Irving, who sued U.S. author Deborah Lipstadt for being labeled a Holocaust denier in one of her American-published  books.  Irving lost (in a court battle recounted in Lipstadt’s excellent book History on Trial) but it’s damning enough that the British legal system allowed him to think he had a case.
When it comes to the issue of defamation, Britain’s court system is overwhelmingly tilted toward plaintiffs, and in practice, these plaintiffs are usually much more wealthy and powerful than those who offended them so.  Things hit rock bottom when corporations and football stars started obtaining “super-injuctions” which not only prevent anyone from spreading the allegedly slanderous allegations, but even revealing the existence of the injunction itself.

In You Can’t Read This Book, Nick Cohen, a columnist for Britain’s Guardian and Observer newspapers, identifies today’s major threats to freedom of expression.  The British legal system, which affects defendants all over the world (like Ehrenfeld, whose connection to the UK was that a few British people bought her book through Amazon) is just one.  The idea that religious believers have a “right not to be offended” is another.
When the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his 1988 fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, the Western media and literati – with a few dishonourable exceptions – rushed to his defence.  By 2006, when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten came under fire for publishing cartoons of Mohammed, something had changed.  While the cartoonists were placed until armed guard, and angry mobs around the world attacked anything that even looked Danish, the consensus seemed to be that Jyllands-Posten – and, by extension, Denmark – had been asking for it.
The internet is hailed as a magnificent tool for fighting censorship and government or corporate control, and Cohen concedes that, in some cases, it’s worked.  Any Briton who wants to watch “Trapped in the Closet” or read about Roman Polanski’s dating adventures can easily find it online.
That’s a double-edged sword, of course: radicals and would-be censors have been adept at using the internet as well.  For example, the story of the “blasphemous” Danish cartoons went viral, with more embellishments added the further it spread.
Moreever, Cohen makes a point that internet enthusiasts tend to forget: the web is available to the oppressors, too.  Democracy activists may use Facebook and YouTube to spread their message, but dictators can use the same services to mass their supporters in response.  The loathsome governments of Belarus and Iran use the web to track dissidents. China has built the world’s most advanced internet “firewall,” with the help of Western technology companies.  Google withdrew from China rather than censor its search results.  Its competitors have not.
I take issue with Cohen’s condemnation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision – which, people tend to forget, came about after a political documentary wasn’t allowed to air on television.  It’s too bad Canada didn’t rate so much as a mention, either, despite our own wrangling over the issues raised in You Can’t Read This Book.  (Among Canadian media outlets, for example, only Ezra Levant’s Western Standard magazine published the Danish Mohammed cartoons – and promptly found itself on the wrong end of a human-rights complaint.  I hear Levant doesn’t like to talk about it much.)
Otherwise, there is little to criticize about his important, enlightening and often infuriating book, which illustrates how freedom of expression remains under sustained attack in what should be the freest era in human history.  I recommend that you read You Can’t Read This Book while you still can, especially before the British legal system gets its hands on it.

Your Facebook photos may be held against you

Courts are still grappling with admitting social media postings into evidence, but there are several reported cases where litigants’ Facebook pictures were deemed admissible:

The first decision rendered in Canada on this subject came from the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, which had to rule on the admissibility as evidence of photographs published on Facebook.4 The Plaintiff had instituted an action relating to bodily injuries suffered in an automobile accident and alleged that the consequences of her accident were loss of enjoyment of life, a reduction in her activities and that her social life had suffered greatly in view of her pain. Although the Plaintiff’s Facebook profile had not been discussed during the examination for discovery, the defence lawyer had accessed photographs published on the Facebook site of a cousin of the Plaintiff. The photographs showed a person having a lot of fun and who did not appear to be suffering or to be limited in her activities, thus contradicting her claims.

The judge admitted the photographs from the Facebook profile of the third party into evidence. Without the admissibility as evidence of these photographs found on the Facebook site, there would not have been any evidence contradicting the allegations and testimony of the Plaintiff concerning her loss of enjoyment of life. Thus, the impact of the admissibility of the Facebook items was important.

Another key decision was also rendered by the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario in 2007 in the case ofMurphy v. Perger5. This judgment was the first to rule on the admissibility as evidence of photographs found in the private section of a Facebook user’ profile. In this case, the Plaintiff was claiming damages for bodily injuries suffered in an automobile accident, in particular for the suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. In support of her claim, the Plaintiff had filed travel and sports activity photographs taken before the accident in the Court’s file. However, before the trial, the Defendant learned that the Plaintiff had published photographs on her private Facebook profile, which was limited to 366 “friends.”

The Court was of the opinion that the admission of the Plaintiff’s Facebook profile as evidence was possible and that it was not a fishing expedition. Since the photographs were already accessible to 366 persons, the judge was also of the opinion that there was no infringement of the right to privacy and that the Plaintiff could not have significant expectations concerning the protection of her private life.

The admissibility of photographs published on Facebook as evidence has also had rather harmful consequences on the credibility of plaintiffs in other cases.

For example, a Plaintiff6 claimed damages for bodily injuries suffered from two car accidents and claimed that he no longer had a social life. However, during cross-examination, the Defendant’s lawyer asked him about pages from his public Facebook profile, which the lawyer had printed. The Court was of the opinion that the Facebook evidence contradicted the Plaintiff’s claims since they revealed that the Plaintiff had a very active social life, that he attended parties and organized them, went to chalets on weekends, drank alcohol and smoked marijuana and seemed to have a number of good friends with whom he communicated and socialized on a regular basis. Following the cross-examination, the Plaintiff even closed his Facebook profile so that there would be no more incriminating items that could be used as evidence.

I may start advising my clients to stay off Facebook altogether until their cases have been dealt with.