LOS ANGELES -- The president of the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles was expelled from court Thursday after he objected to the testimony of a witness in a multimillion-dollar fraud trial against the organization.
A bailiff quietly escorted the Rev. Ken Hoden from the courtroom after he raised his hand in a bid to stop a witness from reading church policy letters about auditing, the orgnization's central religious practice.
'I object,' Hoden said. 'Someone's got to object. They're putting the beliefs of the church on trial.'
Glancing at Hoden and then at the bailiffs, Superior Court Judge Ronald Swearinger ordered Hoden from the courtroom with one word: 'Out.'
As Hoden walked from the courtroom, another man in the courtroom, who identified himself as a Baptist minister from Milwaukee, joined him.
'I'm not a Scientologist,' Dr. Leo Champion, pastor of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee, said outside court. 'But I'm here because religion's on trial. When one church is threatened, they're all threatened.'
Hoden said he feels Scientologists' constitutional rights are violated because testimony about its central practices is allowed as evidence in the trial of $25 million lawsuit filed against the church by former member Larry Wollersheim.
'It's like taking pages out of the Bible and putting them on trial,' Hoden said.
Wollersheim sued the church in 1980, claiming he spent 11 years and about $100,000 in training only to find the church's promises of higher intelligence, supernatural powers and great business success were false.
He also claims church members used intimate confessions from his file to badger and threaten him when he began to disagree with church doctrine.
Attorneys planned to seek a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court to stop the Wollersheim trial on the grounds that the church's constitutional rights are violated.
The organization also seeks a court order that would allow it to keep secret church files on Wollersheim out of the trial. Scientology attorney Earle Cooley has vowed he will go to jail rather than turn over the file to Wollersheim's attorneys.
Last week, the state Supreme Court rejected a church appeal to keep the file out of the trial, and Swearinger said it would have to be turned over.