I lived in Pinellas County, Florida, in between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Because of that, Scientology meant much more to me than Tom Cruise.
It meant watching downtown Clearwater turn into a ghost town as Scientology took over storefronts and businesses and other businesses left because they couldn't get any business. Scientologists wouldn't do business with them, and others abandoned the downtown area.
It meant remembering waiting on the road for what seemed like hours, but was likely at the most 8-10 minutes, as adults in uniforms poured out of the Scientology headquarters. Time and time again. Day after day. I never could figure out a "good" time for passing by. I guess there wasn't any.
It meant all of the stories about the children who were taken from their parents to be raised by people selected by Scientology leaders. And CPS getting upset and the health department people getting upset, when 12 to 18 kids were being kept in 2-bedroom apartments with one adult chaperone.
It meant news stories about kids who went missing and were being "held" at Scientology headquarters. Parents said their kids were held at the "cult", but when the kids were found (late teens and young 20s, usually) they claimed they were happy.
It meant people leaving the "church" and writing about it or being interviewed by local news media and telling how much money they spent trying to get "cleared."
It meant knowing to be careful as one chose a private school in the area, because there were at least two run by Scientologists and probably more that people didn't realize.
Having lived in that part of Florida, and being exposed to the "religion" that way, there's no way I would ever want anyone I know to be involved with them.
But I do have to give them credit for something they pulled off with the county school district that neither Chrstians or Jews could have done.
The Scientologists created a list of "10 good rules" and printed up thousands and thousands of them. They used them in the private schools they ran, but they also gave them to the public school system. And the school district allowed them to be passed out to everyone. On the back was a tiny mention of the organization that printed the pamphlets. It was one of the schools run by Scientologists.
You know what those "10 good rules" were? They were the 10 Commandments, reworded so that they could be used in public school classrooms.
Someone in my neighborhood mentioned them to me. She was so impressed with the list of "10 good rules" donated to the schools and sent home with each child. When I read them, I had to laugh.
The school district was insisting that they could not post the 10 Commandments in schools, and yet they had sent home a modified list of those same commands with every child.
You have to hand it to the Scientologists for that one.
I wonder if anyone still has a copy somewhere.