A judge has decided not to hold the Church of Scientology in contempt for failing to return computer equipment to two men who have been attacking the church on the Internet.
His order last month instructed that the materials be placed in custody of church lawyers, but U.S. marshals mistakenly returned them to the church, U.S. District Judge John Kane said Tuesday."For this reason, my order did not involve any First Amendment issue concerning the free exercise of religion nor can (the church) be held in contempt for violating that order," he wrote.
Instead, Kane appointed a special master - University of Colorado computer science professor Gary Nutt - to determine what happened to the materials that included a computer disk drive, floppy disks, tape drives and CD-ROMs.
Larry Wollersheim and Robert Penny - former Scientologists who have accused church members of engaging in mind-control - have struggled to get their computer bulletin board operating again since the church had the equipment seized by court order in August.
Last month, Kane ordered the church to return all the seized material intact or risk being held in contempt. He also ordered Wollersheim and Penny to stop transmitting what the church considers trademark secrets until he decides whether the documents are protected by law.
Scientology, a religion founded 41 years ago by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, requires initiates to undergo teaching and counseling that can cost thousands of dollars.
Church members were infuriated when Wollersheim and Penny and other former Scientologists posted some of the information on the Internet, making it available for free to millions of people around the world.