Russians seeking protection from the evil alien lord Xenu will have to look elsewhere after a Moscow court ordered the Church of Scientology's city branch shut down because it is "not a religion."
The Nov. 23 decision will require Scientology leaders to sell off assets in Moscow, including property, and shut down operations in the city.
Scientology is a belief system founded by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. Scientologists believe humans are plagued by the souls of Thetans, who were victims of the intergalactic evil Lord Xenu. The souls of the Thetans, Scientology teaches, attach themselves to humans, and are the ultimate cause of human misery and suffering.
Despite widespread condemnation as quackery, the Church of Scientology has thrived across the world with the support of powerful members, including Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Scientology spread to Russia in 1994, and in 2011 the organization built a lavish headquarters in Moscow, about a mile from the Kremlin and Red Square.
The Moscow Scientology Center features a vast three-story atrium, a chapel and a public information center with a library of films on Scientology, according to the church. The court ruling only impacts Moscow, and is not a nationwide ban on Scientology in Russia, The Associated Press reported. In 2011, a Russian district court banned several books written by Hubbard.
A Scientology spokesman told AP the church planned to appeal the Moscow court's ruling. Scientology lawyers said the organization "violated no bans" in Moscow. The main Scientology website included no mention of the Moscow ruling on Nov. 23.
Russia has about 100,000 practitioners of Scientology, according to RT. In the ruling, the Moscow court said Scientology isn't compatible with Russian laws on freedom of religion. The court pointed to the name Scientology itself, which is registered as a trademark, as proof that the organization is commercial and should not be considered a religious nonprofit, Russia's Sputnik News reported.
The Moscow City Court's decision to effectively shut down Scientology in the city was the result of a legal battle that's spanned the better part of two decades: After Russia ordered religious organizations in the country to reapply for protected status under a new law in 1996, Russian courts rejected almost a dozen applications from the Moscow branch of Scientology, according to RT.
With the latest ruling, Russian authorities have instructed Scientology leaders to set up a commission to liquidate the church's Moscow assets, The Independent reported. The court gave Scientology leaders six months to set up the commission.