by Lan Nguyen
The Washington Post
August 13, 1995
By Lan Nguyen
U.S. marshals seized computer equipment and files yesterday from an
Arlington man who has posted material criticizing the Church of
Scientology on the Internet.
For the last year, Arnaldo Lerma has posted on the Internet court
documents involving the California-based church, including
testimony from former church officials who describe it as a
Last week, Lerma's postings contained "confidential and
unpublished" teachings that the church provides to its members only
through one-on-one counseling, according to a lawyer for the
church. The church filed a lawsuit against Lerma and his Internet
provider, Vienna-based Digital Gateway Systems, claiming copyright
Lerma said the information he posted came from an affidavit in a
California case involving the church -- a public document that can
be obtained by anyone. "I'm just trying to inform the public in the
public interest," he said.
Lerma, 44, left the church 15 years ago and has become a vocal
critic of church practices. He once was romantically involved with
a daughter of the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
Federal marshals and church lawyers went to Lerma's house yesterday
with a court order to remove any equipment that could be used to
post Scientology information on Internet. Lerma said they took more
than 400 computer disks, four computer hard drives, a computer and
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of Alexandria authorized the
search and seizure on Friday.
Helena Kobrin, a church lawyer, said widespread distribution of the
church's upper-level teachings on the Internet will cause financial
harm to the church because members generally donate funds to learn
the information. "The church supports itself through the donations
for the services it delivers," Kobrin said, calling Lerma's actions
Several Internet activists criticized the church's lawsuit as a
threat to freedom of speech.
"The church's use of legal process to harass Arnie Lerma offends
both the free speech and privacy interests protected by the
Constitution and our laws," said Mike Godwin, a lawyer for the
California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil
liberties group. "Regardless of whatever merit there is to
(Scientology's) claims, the underlying intent is to intimidate
critics of the church."
Staff writer Richard Leiby contributed to this article.