Although the Church of Scientology has tried to sue schismatic groups out of existence, a steady stream of defectors have resulted in a large but loosely-organized and Internet-driven community of people who still consider themselves Scientologists known as the “Free Zone,” writes James Lewis in the current issue of the Finnish journal Temenos (Vol. 49, No. 2).
There have been “tens of thousands” who have left the Church of Scientology’s fold since the early 1980s, with a recent wave of defections adding to the diversity of the Free Zone, including the 2012 schism of an entire Scientology center in Haifa, Israel. The more recent defectors (starting around 2005) tend to call themselves Independent Scientology to differentiate themselves from other Free Zone groups started earlier, such as Ron’s Org, which claims that L. Ron Hubbard channeled additional teachings to them after his death in 1986.
But movement between all these groups is relatively common, with people not directly affiliated with Ron’s Org nevertheless seeking auditing (the Scientology method for becoming “clear” of past traumatic experiences) or training at a Ron’s Org center. Founded in 1984, Ron’s Org is a federation of independent centers and is currently headquartered in Switzerland, with active centers in Germany, Switzerland, Russia and some of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ nations.
The Church of Scientology also licenses independent auditors who are trained to deliver the church’s form of “therapy” outside of the physical boundaries of Scientology centers. Lewis writes that “such independent field auditors are, in effect, single person Scientology franchises.” A number of these independent auditors have left the church through the years and become part of the Free Zone-listing their independent auditing services online. In between the larger groups, such Ron’s Org and independent auditors, “one can also find small groups consisting of [non-Church of Scientology] Scientologists who meet together informally and continue their study of Scientology.”
As might be expected, the Internet has been a boon to the Free Zone. “It has not only provided Freezoners with a forum for airing grievances, but the Internet has also provided more recent ex-members with points of contact for becoming affiliated with Free Zone organizations and for availing themselves of Scientology services and trainings that had formerly only been available through the Church,” Lewis adds.