Scientologists Are Saying Church Being Persecuted
Date: April 6, 2000
Lawyers for the Church of Scientology argued yesterday that criminal charges filed against them in a church member's death were brought by prosecutors determined to negatively brand the church.
The charges have resulted in anti-Scientology sentiment and violates religious freedom, church lawyers said as they attempted to convince Pinellas Circuit Court Judge Susan Schaeffer to dismiss charges from the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson.
"It targets the church, its members, its clergy," said Eric Lieberman, a New York attorney representing the church. "There can be resulting harassment, hatred. Religious conflict is manifested, it's generated."
But in the day-long hearing attended by more than 200 Scientologists, prosecutors countered this case is not one of religious freedom, but one of medical neglect. McPherson, 36, had been under the care of her fellow church members for 17 days following a minor car accident and a mental breakdown. She died of a blood clot in her lung that some medical experts believe was caused by the accident.
But prosecutors said she was badly dehydrated, malnourished and that the medical care church members gave her was unlicensed and inadequate.
They said other experts may testify that the dehydration aggravated the blood clot and could have killed McPherson on its own.
"The real issue is who is responsible," said Assistant State Attorney Doug Crow. "We believe the appropriate charge is against the religious corporation, against the church."
Schaeffer told the attorneys she was sensitive to criticism aimed at church members, saying that on recent trip to Clearwater she saw picketers with signs saying McPherson's blood was on the church's hands.
She also asked prosecutors why they didn't charge the individuals involved with McPherson's care, rather than taking the unprecedented act of filing charges against the church.
Prosecutors said there was conflicting evidence holding any one church member responsible, but they believed that anything done to McPherson was under the church's control.