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UNITED STATES v. AN ARTICLE OR DEVICE

July 30, 1971

UNITED STATES of America, Libelant,
v.
An ARTICLE OR DEVICE . . . "HUBBARD ELECTROMETER" or "Hubbard E-Meter," etc., Founding Church of Scientology et al., Claimants


Gesell, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

GESELL, District Judge.

 This is an action by the United States seeking nationwide condemnation of a gadget known as an E-meter and related writings, by libel of information under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 301 et seq. The E-meter is claimed to be a device within the meaning of the Act. Misbranding and lack of adequate directions for use are alleged. Claimants are the Founding Church of Scientology and various individuals.

 This suit was originally tried to a jury before another Judge of this Court and the conviction there obtained was reversed on appeal after a long trial because of certain First Amendment problems suggested by the instructions and evidentiary rulings. Founding Church of Scientology v. United States, 133 U.S. App. D.C. 229, 409 F.2d 1146 (1969). The present trial was conducted to the Court without a jury after a series of pretrials which narrowed the issues. The record consists of the transcript and exhibits taken at the prior trial with some additions and deletions, plus the testimony of one additional witness who testified further on religious aspects of the case. Many of the background facts are set forth in the opinion of the Court of Appeals and since they were in the main not contested at the second trial they need not all be repeated here.

 The E-meter is essentially a simple galvanometer using two tin cans as electrodes. It is crude, battery-powered, and designed to measure electrical skin resistance. It is completely harmless and ineffective in itself. A person using the meter for treatment holds the tin cans in his hands during an interview with the operator who is known as an auditor and who purports to read indicators from the galvanometer needle as it notes reactions to questions. Scientology is a so-called exact science which promotes auditing. When practiced by trained or untrained persons, Scientology auditing is claimed to improve the health, intelligence, ability, behavior, skill and appearance of the individual treated.

 L. Ron Hubbard, writing in a science fiction magazine in the 1940's, first advanced the extravagant false claims that various physical and mental illnesses could be cured by auditing. He played a major part in developing Scientology. Thereafter, commencing in the early 1950's numerous Scientology books and pamphlets were written explaining how various illnesses can be and had been cured through auditing. These materials were widely distributed. Hubbard, who wrote much of the material, is a facile, prolific author and his quackery flourished throughout the United States and in various parts of the world. He was supported by other pamphleteers and adherents who also promoted the practice of Scientology and touted its alleged benefits.

 Hubbard and his fellow Scientologists developed the notion of using an E-meter to aid auditing. Substantial fees were charged for the meter and for auditing sessions using the meter. They repeatedly and explicitly represented that such auditing effectuated cures of many physical and mental illnesses. An individual processed with the aid of the E-meter was said to reach the intended goal of "clear" and was led to believe there was reliable scientific proof that once cleared many, indeed most illnesses would automatically be cured. Auditing was guaranteed to be successful. All this was and is false -- in short, a fraud. Contrary to representations made, there is absolutely no scientific or medical basis in fact for the claimed cures attributed to E-meter auditing.

 Unfortunately the Government did not move to stop the practice of Scientology and a related "science" known as Dianetics when these activities first appeared and were gaining public acceptance. Had it done so, this tedious litigation would not have been necessary. The Government did not sue to condemn the E-meter until the early 1960's, by which time a religious cult known as the Founding Church of Scientology had appeared. This religion, formally organized in 1955, existed side-by-side with the secular practice of Scientology. Its adherents embrace many of Hubbard's teachings and widely disseminate his writings. The Church purports to believe that many illnesses may be cured through E-meter auditing by its trained ministers through an appeal to the spirit or soul of a man. As a matter of formal doctrine, the Church professes to have abandoned any contention that there is a scientific basis for claiming cures resulting from E-meter use. The Church, however, continued widely to circulate Scientology literature such as Government's exhibits 16 and 31, which hold out false scientific and medical promises of certain cure for many types of illnesses. *fn1"

 In 1962, when the Government seized the E-meters involved in the present controversy, it took them from the premises of the Church, confiscating some E-meters which were actually then being used primarily by ministers of the Church to audit adherents or to train auditors for subsequent church activity. Thus the Government put itself in the delicate position of moving against not only secular uses of the E-meter but other uses purporting to be religious, and the Court accordingly confronts the necessity of reconciling the requirements of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act prohibiting misbranding and the requirements of the First Amendment protecting religious institutions and religious beliefs from governmental interference under the First Amendment.

 The Court of Appeals has ruled that the evidence at the prior trial and reintroduced at this trial established prima facie that the Founding Church of Scientology, the principal claimant here, is a bona fide religion and that the auditing practice of Scientology and accounts of it are religious doctrine. No evidence to the contrary was offered by the Government on the second trial. Accordingly, for purposes of this particular case only, claimant must be deemed to have met its burden of establishing First Amendment standing for whatever significance the religious practice of Scientology may have on the outcome of this particular litigation.

 The Government considers the First Amendment issue wholly irrelevant and extraneous. Claimant, on the other hand, relies heavily on the religious claim. The positions of the parties are so completely different that neither even deigns to recognize any merit in the other. The briefs and findings proposed by each side pass like two ships at night with not even a port or starboard light showing. Yet the truth is not as absolute as either party contends. Religious aspects of this controversy, once tactically conceded, cannot be ignored. On the other hand, it is a gross exaggeration to insist that the energetic, persistent solicitation of E-meter-audited cures for a fee has all occurred in a spiritual setting without use of secular appeals and false scientific promises made in a wholly non-religious context.

 Turning to the precise issues presented, it must first be determined whether the E-meter is a device within the meaning of the Act (21 U.S.C. § 321 (h)). It obviously meets the statutory definition of an apparatus or contrivance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation or treatment of disease. Moreover, it is held out as such in the constant promotion of E-meter auditing, a process designed to effectuate cures of mental and physical illnesses. Claimants contend that the E-meter is harmless in itself, cures nothing by itself, and therefore cannot be a device since those who use it appreciate its ineffectiveness and cannot therefore have the requisite intent. This begs the question. The device plays a key part in both the secular and religious auditing process which is used and intended to be used in the cure, mitigation or treatment of disease. It need not be the only agent in an allegedly curative process to be a device within the definition. The E-meter is a device within the meaning of the Act.

 Over 100 E-meters were seized. At the same time the Government seized some 200 separate pieces of literature containing approximately 20,000 pages, much of which it now contends demonstrates misbranding of the device by misrepresentation and lack of adequate directions for use under 21 U.S.C. §§ 334 and 352.

 The writings seized were located in a bookstore, or "Distribution Center," separately incorporated but owned by the Church, with offices in the basement of the Church premises. *fn2" The Center advertised and sold for profit a long list of Scientology, Dianetics and other writings concerned with auditing in book, pamphlet, newsletter and other forms.

 A few of these writings are primarily religious in nature. Others contain medical or scientific claims in a partially religious context. Most of the material, however, explains aspects of Scientology and Dianetics in purely matter-of-fact medical and scientific terms without any apparent religious reference. While the Court of Appeals concluded that literature setting forth the theory of auditing, including the claims for curative efficacy contained therein, is religious doctrine and hence as a matter of law not labeling, it recognized this was so only if the person charged with misrepresentation explicitly held himself out as making religious as opposed to medical, scientific or otherwise secular claims. The bulk of the material is replete with false medical and scientific claims devoid of any religious overlay or reference. Two books which the Church especially recommended to interested participants, "Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought" (Government Ex. 31), and "The Problems of Work" (Government Ex. 103), are typical examples of books containing false scientific non-religious claims. Examples of such claims found in these and a few other representative documents used in various direct and indirect ways to promote E-meter auditing are listed in Appendix A.

 Thus the literature has all the necessary elements of labeling specified in 21 U.S.C. § 321(m) since it "accompanied" the device within the meaning of the Act. See Kordel v. United States, 335 U.S. 345, 351, 69 S. Ct. 106, 93 L. Ed. 52 (1948).

 Having in mind a jury trial, the Court of Appeals contemplated an item-by-item analysis of the writings alleged to be labeling in order to remove from jury inspection purely religious appeals, reserving a presentation of the other literature for determination under instructions differentiating the secular from the religious. This exercise is, of course, unnecessary on a trial to the Court. A single false scientific nonreligious label claim is sufficient to support condemnation, and in fact there are many. Moreover, differentiation of individual documents as a practical matter is of little value when it comes to an overall resolution of the controversy. Realistically, the writings cannot only be viewed separately. They are available and distributed in infinite combinations. Whole books are involved which often ramble, contradict and are constructed to make diversified appeals that are basically secular and directed to varying temperaments, ages and attitudes of potential readers. Much of the material is skillful propaganda designed to make Scientology and E-meter auditing attractive in many varied, often inconsistent wrappings.

 The Food and Drug laws are designed to protect the public. The literature disseminated by various Scientology groups is written for popular lay consumption. The words and thrust of the writings must accordingly be so considered. Claims as to the efficacy of the E-meter must be read to mean what they clearly purport to say to ordinary lay readers. The Court notes that the task of determining whether a claim or representation is religious or non-religious, or whether a religious claim is genuine or merely "tacked on" to basically pseudoscientific claims, is hardly less troublesome than the task of determining whether a religious claim is true or false. The Court has attempted to resolve the difficulty thus presented by the Court of Appeals by refusing to consider the truth or falsity of any claim which, in the understanding of the average reader, could be construed as resting on religious faith. All doubts on this issue have been resolved in favor of the Claimants. But the overall effect of the many separate writings and the writings as a whole cannot be seriously questioned. Whether the documents are viewed singly or as a whole, the proof showed that many false scientific claims permeate the writings and that these are not even inferentially held out as religious, either in their sponsorship or context.

 It should be kept in mind at all times that the Church is but one of several groups engaged in the promotion of Scientology; others include the Hubbard Guidance Center, that offers non-religious processing and auditing to the public for a fee; Hubbard Association of Scientologists International (HASI), a world-wide organization promoting Scientology among members of the organization who receive a monthly magazine ("Ability") and other benefits; and the Distribution Center, Inc., already mentioned. The combined effort of all these activities is to persuade the public to come forward for auditing with an E-meter for a fee, and while some may be motivated or attracted by religious considerations, others who audit or are audited are not. *fn3"

 An individual was not required to be either a Church member or a Scientologist to be audited at cost of $500 for 25 hours, with state of "clear" guaranteed for $5,000. The E-meter was available for sale to the public for a fee of $125. The benefits of auditing were extravagantly advertised. At the time this action was commenced, E-meters perhaps as many as one-third the total supply -- were being used by members of the public without any religious control or supervision. *fn4" The writings were distributed to accompany the E-meter and intended to promote its use by members of the public; they were used by laymen for secular purposes; individually a great many contain false unqualified scientific claims without even a religious overlay or suggestion. Viewed as a whole the thrust of the writings is secular, not religious. The writings are labeling within the meaning of the Act. Thus, the E-meter is misbranded and its secular use must be condemned along with secular use of the offensive literature as labeling. The misbranding results not only from misrepresentation by reason of 21 U.S.C. § 352(a) but because the labeling failed to bear adequate directions for use required by 21 U.S.C. § 352(f)(1). *fn5"

 An initial issue presented is whether the normal Food and Drug remedies, 21 U.S.C. § 334, may under any circumstances be applied to the device when used by some as an "artifact" of a church. A law designed to afford protection to the public against genuine evils may be used to regulate the activities of religion only if the regulation involved is the narrowest possible remedy to achieve the legitimate non-religious end, which in this case is only to protect the public against misrepresentation since the E-meter is harmless in itself. See Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S. Ct. 1790, 10 L. Ed. 2d 965 (1963); Barnett v. Rodgers, 133 U.S.App. D.C. 296, 410 F.2d 995 (1969).

 The Government argues that once a violation of the Act is established, the devices seized may be treated the same as any other misbranded device. Since the bona fides of the religion remains unquestioned on this record, the Government's position is an oversimplification. Here is a pseudo-science that has been adopted and adapted for religious purposes. The literature held to make false representations, while in itself nonreligious, nevertheless comprises for some, part of the writings, teachings, and history of a religion. Those who belong to the Church and accept its beliefs assert that many illnesses may be alleviated by religious counseling designed to free the spirit of encumbrances. They find in the rationale and procedures of Scientology satisfactory early explanations and techniques to implement what is essentially faith healing by use of the E-meter. Thus they purport to read the purely secular writings of Scientology with semantic interpretations fostered by their evolving religious doctrine. Purely scientific statements are given a theological slant by the initiated and the occasional theological indications in the writings are given enthusiastic exaggeration. What the layman reads as straight science fiction becomes to the believer a bit of early imperfect scripture. The result of all this is that what may appear to the layman as a factual scientific representation (clearly false) is not necessarily this at all when read by one who has embraced the doctrine of the Church.

 Accordingly, the Government's protestations that it is not interfering with religious practice when it seeks to condemn the E-meter and related literature must be qualified. The Church is a religious institution protected by the First Amendment. The E-meter is used by its ministers as part of the ritual and practice of the Church. Serious interference indeed results if the Church is entirely prohibited from using the E-meter by condemnation or if the Court orders the Food and Drug Administration to oversee a general rewriting of all the writings the Church purveys. Where there is a belief in a scientific fraud there is nonetheless an interference with the religion that entertains that belief if its writings are censored or suppressed. Similarly, if a church uses a machine harmless in itself to aid its ministers in communicating with adherents, the destruction of that machine intrudes on religion. The dilemma cannot be resolved by attempting to isolate purely false scientific claims from claims that have sufficient religious content to be outside the Food and Drug laws. There is a religious substance to everything when seen with the eyes of the believer.

 For these reasons, the Church may not be wholly prevented from practicing its faith or from seeking new adherents. A decree of condemnation which ordered destruction of the device, with its necessary res judicata effect as to all E-meters in the country, would achieve this effect. On the other hand, a condemnation decree which allowed the FDA to reform the writings as is done in the usual commercial drug misbranding case would give a Government agency excessive power to interfere with the exercise of religion, fostering that Government "entanglement" with religion which has been recently condemned by the Supreme Court. See, e.g., Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 91 S. Ct. 2105, 29 L. Ed. 2d 745 (1971). Neither of these possible remedies is acceptable to the Court.

 Had the Government proceeded in equity to enjoin specific non-religious practices or representations which it believed to violate the Act, the Court could have curtailed the purely commercial use of the E-meter while leaving the Church free to practice its belief under limited circumstances. An action in rem, however, acts only upon the device, and the Court cannot fashion a remedy in libel which distinguishes with particularity between religious and non-religious uses. An equity proceeding is clearly the most satisfactory remedy in this and ...


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