10/26/99 -- 8:31 AM Scientologists, critic, battle in the name of dead "worshiper"
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) - Local Scientologists are parrying the efforts of one of their most vocal critics to use the name of a woman who died while in the "church's" care to discredit their organization. Robert S. Minton, a staunch critic of the "Church" of Scientology, said he is financing a new foundation named after Lisa McPherson, veteran Scientologist who died in 1995 while in the care of the "church."
Incorporation papers for the Lisa McPherson Educational Foundation are expected to be filed this week.
McPherson, 36, suffered a severe mental breakdown for 17 days before she died of a blood clot in her left lung. Her death prompted a wrongful death lawsuit, filed in Tampa, and criminal charges against the "church" in Pinellas County.
Minton's foundation will reach out to disaffected members of the "church" and educate the public about what he says are the harmful effects of Scientology.
The new foundation would provide exit counseling for people wanting to leave Scientology, said Minton, who has spent about $2.5-million over the past three years fighting the "church."
In response to Minton's plan, which leaked out on the Internet, Scientologists last week registered two corporations bearing McPherson's name.
The Lisa Foundation Inc., or the Lisa McPherson Foundation Inc., would work to stand up against the "hate-mongering" and "religious intolerance" of Minton and his allies, said Bennetta Slaughter, a Clearwater businesswoman and a Scientologist who was McPherson's boss and longtime friend[sic] and is leading the groups.
Slaughter said McPherson was a dedicated Scientologist who never would have wanted her name affiliated with Minton's cause.
"Bob Minton never met Lisa McPherson, said Mike Rinder, a top Scientology official. "If he had, he would have spit in her eye."
Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar represents McPherson's estate in the wrongful death case and is helping Minton form his foundation.
He said Slaughter's action was "Like O.J. Simpson forming a foundation in the name of Nicole Simpson. It just is ludicrous, brazen and shameful."
Clearwater is the "religious" retreat for the "church," whose membership may be either the eight million worldwide that it claims, or the 200,000 that critics assert [Note: more like 65,000]. Los Angeles, where Hollywood stars like John Travolta and Tom Cruise are prominent Scientologists, is the administrative headquarters.
After it first surfaced in Clearwater the "church" founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard countered City Council hostility and police investigations with lawsuits, demonstrations and investigations of its own. The "church" then went on a major good-citizen campaign.
Then came the death of Lisa McPherson.
"In her final days, she was virtually begging for help," Dandar said. "What happened to Lisa was disgusting."