As Anonymous battles against the Church of Scientology, some people sympathetic to the Church of Scientology raise the issue of religious freedom. What those who protest the Church of Scientology should keep clear is that they are protesting against an organization, not a system of belief. The distinction is commonly lost when people outside of a system of belief look in, and not just when Scientology is the belief system under consideration.
Religion vs. Organization
Mormonism has a similar interesting mixture of belief system and organization. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or "LDS Church") is the organization in Utah, but there are many "Mormon Fundamentalist" groups who claim that the LDS Church has gone astray and that they better represent authentic Mormonism. Most people seem to realize that the actions of an occasional abusive polygamist should not be held against the LDS Church organization, but some assume that the LDS Church is 100% equal to Mormonism.
Christianity hasn't been a monolithic organization in more than 1000 years, splintering into too many small groups to count. Painting with broad strokes, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian organization, with 1.1 billion members. However, another billion Christians belong to different organizations or even to no organization at all. It is often difficult for non-Christians to identify which beliefs are intrinsically part of Christianity and which are only shared by some subset of Christian churches.
Islam (the religion) has at least two major branches of belief (Sunni and Shia), and each branch is further split into three or four "subsects." When one Imam or Mujtahid speaks, he does not represent the entire religion, and may not even represent his entire small group. Most of us have trouble tracking which views are inherent to Islam, which are part of Sunni or Shia, and which are simply isolated pockets based more on geography or politics or culture than religion.
Adherents.com labels the difference as "religion" (Christianity, Islam, Scientology) and "religious body" (Roman Catholic Church, Sunni Islam, Church of Scientology).
The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This is the fundamental declaration of religious freedom in the United States, but it does not protect every organization that claims to represent a religion. Various archdioceses of the Roman Catholic Church are legally liable for illegal actions taken by their priests, for example. If any of the criminal allegations Anonymous makes against the Church of Scientology are true, then the Church of Scientology should face the legal consequences, though the practice of Dianetics or Scientology should not be prohibited.
If someone is interested in Christianity but unhappy with the church they're attending, here in the United States the solution is simple: there is usually another Christian church a few blocks down the road. For Muslims or Mormons, finding alternatives may be more difficult.
There are also alternatives to people who are interested in the religion of Dianetics or Scientology but want to avoid dealing with the Church of Scientology. The International Freezone Association is a group of independent Scientologists who practice the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard but avoid anything having to do with the religious body of the Church of Scientology. Some people are upset with the Church of Scientology because they see it as a profit-seeking entity and believe that large amounts of money are being funneled to David Miscavage and other organization leaders. Other people blame the organization for the deaths of Lisa McPherson and others. Whether these claims are true or not, they are claims against the organization, not against the religion.
Some people may object to the very idea of Scientology, even as practiced by Free Zone Scientologists. Some people object to the very idea of Christianity, or Islam, or religion in general. The U.S. Constitution protects the right of people to practice the religion of their choice, or to practice no religion at all. Protests against a specific Roman Catholic archdiocese because of actions taken by bishops do not threaten that religious freedom. Protests against Muslims in general do.Powered by Sidelines