A wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology in Florida, but tied up through seemingly endless court actions may finally go to trial.

The controversial church is being sued for the wrongful death of one of its own.

In 1995 a 36-year-old Scientologist named Lisa McPherson apparently snapped and had a breakdown. But rather than take the hysterical woman to a hospital for treatment, Scientologists instead opted to move her to a facility they controlled.

Scientology essentially teaches that the mental health profession is evil and has long opposed both psychiatrists and the use of psychiatric drugs.

For seventeen days after her breakdown McPherson remained under Scientology’s care. And at the end of that period she was dead.

McPherson’s family sued Scientology in February of 1997.

Scientology’s apparent strategy to date has been to keep the lawsuit tied up in endless legal wrangling. It seems their latest ploy was to claim they could not get a fair trial in Clearwater, Florida, due to public opinion against them.

However, somewhat surprisingly they recently abandoned their request for a change of venue, clearing the way for a trial in four weeks, reports the Palm Beach Post.

Critics claim that Scientology abuses the judicial system to wear down and punish its perceived enemies through endless litigation. Founder L. Ron Hubbard literally taught this device to his followers as virtually an article of faith.

Historically, Scientology has been sued many times. But the church often settle cases by paying off plaintiffs. Such plaintiffs are typically asked to sign a “gag order” as part of the settlement agreement, which limits their ability to speak about the organization in the future.

Such settlement agreements can be seen as an effective way to silence critics and control information.

Scientology has apparently made substantial settlement offers, hoping to make the McPherson case go away. But it appears thus far the plaintiff is unwilling to sign off on anything that might limit their freedom of speech.

Now that the trial date is near settlement offers from Scientology, which some say is worth billions, will likely rise prodigiously.

Will the McPherson estate take the money and end the matter?

Or will this case go to trial and offer the public a penetrating look within Scientology perhaps never before fully presented in a courtroom?

Organizations or groups that are personality-driven and/or essentially defined by the personality of a charismatic leader, have often been called “cults.”

However, not all cults are destructive and many over the centuries have been relatively benign.

It seems some American corporations can be seen as consumer “cults,” often driven and/or defined by their founder’s personality.

The saga of the corporate Multi-media Empire wrought by Martha Stewart appears to be one example.

This commercial kingdom is so identified and defined by its creator, it is called “Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.”

But Martha’s empire has lost half its value, since the stature of its leader began to crumble.

Would Stewart’s cult following stay loyal to the brand without the presence of her personality?

Martha Stewart is an “extreme case of this corporate cult of personality,” reports the Boston Globe.

But there are other personality-driven enterprises such as Oprah Winfey’s synergistic media holdings, which continue to thrive.

Rosie O’Donnell seemed to be embarking on the path of Oprah, until “coming out” became more important to the talk show host than being in the money.

What will be Martha Stewart’s corporate legacy if she is killed in court?

Will her magazine fold, like George did, not long after founder John F. Kennedy Jr. died?

Most cults end or slowly whither away after the leader dies or self-destructs.

There is no “Family” without Charles Manson. And groups like Synanon, Aum and the Nuwaubians faded after their leaders were prosecuted.

But it seems that if there are significant assets and an ample cash flow “cults” can continue after a founder dies.

Witness how Scientology soldiers on undaunted by L. Ron Hubbard’s death in the 80s. Its celebrity faithful like John Travolta and Tom Cruise have not lost faith and keep paying for Hubbard’s “technology.”

The die-hard followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh still watch his videos long after their leader’s demise. And they gather to honor him at the still active ashram he started in India.

But after Herbert Armstrong died his Worldwide Church of God struggled to establish a new identity. And it shrank as adherents exited. It seems without Armstrong there was no lasting loyalty.

Which historical “cult” example will Stewart’s “corporate cult of personality” parallel?

Will there be consumer fealty for “Martha Stewart Living,” if Martha is living in prison?

Her fans might move on to a less controversial and/or embattled “domestic diva.”

Martha Stewart may have taught Americans that simplicity is timeless, but it seems probable that her cult following will dwindle if she does any time.

Joyce Brothers, Ph.D. has been a regular on television and within newspapers for many years. She graduated from Cornell in 1947 and received her doctorate in psychology in 1955. “Baby boomers” have literally grown up with her advice

Still syndicated as a columnist Brothers dispenses advice on an array of subjects.

This week she has tackled “cults,” “brainwashing” and “mind control” in two of her columns.

Her first piece on Monday assured the concerned grandmother of a Marine that “cult brainwashing” is not the same as “torture and brainwashing” used on prisoners of war (POWs). Brothers’ comments were featured within the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

However, her commentary is actually somewhat misleading.

Psychiatrist, author and researcher Robert Jay Lifton revealed in his seminal book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, that civilians incarcerated by North Korean Communists during the Korean Conflict, subjected to “thought reform,” often called “brainwashing,” were temporarily transformed without the use of “torture.”

Likewise, imminent clinical psychologist and author Margaret Singer discovered the same, through her examination and research regarding military prisoners, while working for Walter Reed Hospital.

In other words, what Lifton and Singer found, is that there is no significant difference between what was done to POWs and the techniques employed by destructive “cults” through their thought reform programs.

Today Brothers lays out for readers the basics regarding “mind control,” within the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The good doctor posits a couple of rather controversial points worth mentioning.

She said, “If the captors happen to be of the same religion as their captives…their task of mind control might be somewhat easier.”

Actually, this is a bit too simplistic.

For example, “cults” composed largely of former Roman Catholics, are actually most often schismatic groups that may have begun within a mainstream church and then were drawn away by a charismatic leader and later excommunicated, such as Christ Covenant Community.

Another example would be polygamist groups with many former mainline Mormons as members, such as “The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days” (“TLC”), which simply recruited within a state that, is overwhelmingly made up of Mormons.

Brothers also says, “The best targets for brainwashing are…upper and middle economic classes.”

But this can be seen as a direct result of cult recruitment efforts often focused at college and university campuses, where “upper and middles class” students are ubiquitous.

Both of these observations by Brothers can be seen as a kind of “victim bashing.”

That is, if the cult victim were not “religious” or “middle class” they would not be as vulnerable.

However, when psychiatrist John Clark of Harvard researched the issue of some demographic group’s special vulnerability to cult influence, he found no evidence to support such a theory.

Instead, Clark discovered this vulnerability to be widespread and that no special class or group was immune or predisposed to be taken in by cults.

Of course there are times when everyone is more vulnerable to suggestion, such as college students away from home and family for the first time in a new environment, people that are depressed and/or under extreme stress. And there is always the obvious vulnerability of a subject during a hypnotic trance, which might also include certain forms of meditation.

It seems there are no easy answers when attempting to understand whom destructive cults and leaders victimize.

Perhaps the only meaningful immunity that can be achieved is through specific education and increased awareness about destructive “cults,” their dynamics and the techniques they may employ to recruit, indoctrinate and retain members.

A fertile new ground for “cults” and/or “cult like” groups seems to be business training through seminars, courses and/or workshops.

What could be more profitable than marketing a group’s beliefs and spiritual solutions, with the spin that they somehow have a profitable business application?

An apparent example popped up in a Phoenix newspaper this week in the form of a “workshop” called “The Invincible Salesperson,” offered by a controversial organization named 3HO led by Yogi Bhajan.

3HO didn’t clearly identify itself within the business blurb.

The “Darshan Khalsa workshop” includes “six private consultations” for only $345, according to The Phoenix Republic calendar.

However, 3HO and its guru are more readily known for yoga, meditation and wearing white. And their past pupils have been busted by the FTC for fraud, not to mention the criminal enterprise of drug running.

Never mind.

It seems that some groups called “cults” feel marketing their beliefs as a business course is good for their “bottom line.”

A similar spin has been used by Scientology, though a closely related enterprise called Sterling Management, which essentially touts its founder L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings as a “technology” with applications for business.

But all these courses and seminars ultimately appear to lead participants to the same conclusion.

That is, the sponsoring group’s religious beliefs and practices are a means to improve business.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, this isn’t exactly “business” training, but more like proselytizing and religious indoctrination accomplished through the facade of business training.

However, salvation to a for a business and/or a professional isn’t really based upon subjective beliefs, but rather the objective reality of making money.

A man who runs a church from his home in Washington claims that growing marijuana is somehow a religious right and apparently smoking it a rite of his religion too, reports Associated Press.

Rev. Lee Phillips of Auburn, Washington told authorities, “This house is a church,” and added “People come to us for what we offer them.”

But it seems what the good reverend offers is an opportunity to get high on more than spirituality.

Police raided the Phillips home and found more than 200 marijuana plants under cultivation.

Though Mrs. Phillips has a doctor’s note, which supposedly allows her to use the controlled substance, it clearly doesn’t entitle the couple to grow and share a crop with others.

Phillips calls his church “The Center for Healing and Spiritual Renewal” and claims that “cannabis brings us closer to God.”

But this church’s “sacramental medicine” and apparent article of faith is illegal.

The street value of the plants seized was set at about $200,000 according to authorities. And police contend that the “church” was simply engaged in “selling dope.”

Some might think that anything done in name of religion should be a protected right and that a believer’s sacrament is his own business.

However, when a believer’s business is an illegal one, religious rights grant no special immunity.

Instead, whether it’s the illegal cultivation of a prohibited cash crop, sale of a controlled substance, medical neglect or child abuse, religious rights don’t include any behavior in the name of God.

Perhaps Rev. Phillips should have realized that sewing his seeds, would likely lead to a police raid rather than a “holy harvest.”

The Church of Scientology has a deeply troubled history, especially in Florida. And this may pose a problem for the organization regarding potential jurors in a coming wrongful death civil case.

Floridians commonly call the controversial church a “cult,” “scam,” “strange” and associate its behavior with “brainwashing.”

Scientology counters such criticism with accusations of “religious bigotry” and “hate mongering.”

However, one editorial recently said “residents…are well informed…have good memories” and simply have not forgotten “years of shenanigans,” opined the St. Petersburg Times.

“Bigotry” and “hate mongering” is essentially the typical label Scientology applies to almost any public criticism.

Such claims were once made against Time Magazine, regarding its 1991 cover story “Scientology: The Cult of Greed.”

Likewise, Germany’s close scrutiny of the organization has garnered them the inferred title of “Nazis,” from Scientologists eager to dismiss them.

But maybe “what goes around, comes around” and Scientology is now “reaping what it has sown.”

After decades of bullying its critics and some say abusing many of its members, its history appears to have come back around full circle to haunt the house that L. Ron Hubbard built.

Sadly for Scientologists a recent effort to burnish their image and promote positive spin doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. Even after using celebrity spokespeople such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Lisa Marie Presley.

It seems unlikely that Scientology will find any venue in Florida where people don’t know about the bad behavior of the “cult” that prefers to be called a “church.”

Could there be an isolated swamp somewhere in the Florida wetlands, where no one knows about Scientology?

But you can’t call up alligators for jury duty, or can you?

A school supposedly devoted to helping troubled teens was closed in Costa Rica by the government amidst allegations of “severe physical and mental abuse,” reports the National Post.

Such schools often locate their facilities outside the United States to avoid regulation, but most of their students come from the United States and Canada.

Desperate parents, often persuaded through school run seminars, send their kids at great expense hoping for a touted turn-around in behavior.

Minor children are often brought in by force and may even be sedated with drugs to subdue them during their initial entry.

Former students have described such schools as virtual “prisons” where they were bullied, humiliated and at times physically abused.

Some critics say such facilities often employ extreme environmental control and coercive persuasion techniques not unlike destructive cults to “brainwash” participants.

Lawsuits and even criminal charges have swirled around what many call the “teen boot camp” industry.

A controversial conservative Catholic organization called the Legionaries of Christ founded by a Mexican priest accused of sexual misconduct, appears to have some influence over the family of the President of Mexico , reports Newsweek.

The second wife of President Vicente Fox has historic ties to the group and two of his children have attended its schools.

Former members allege the group is excessively authoritarian and abusively controlling.

The Legionaries of Christ control 10 universities and 154 private schools.

Critics claim the group often seizes control of such institutions in what can be seen as a somewhat hostile take over process, purging those who don’t hold to their strict view of Catholicism and harsh style of governance.

There have been repeated and serious complaints within the United States by lay Catholics, priests and educators regarding the organization.

One year after her abduction Elizabeth Smart continues to recover from her ordeal, reports the Desert News

Her father said, “It’s like we’re fully re-engaged, as much as that can be done,” and added, “Elizabeth is doing great.”

The Smart family sought the advice of another kidnap “cult” victim Patty Hearst, to better understand the problems posed within the recovery process.

An apparent roving lunatic and sexual predator kidnapped Elizabeth. That self-proclaimed “prophet” Brian David Mitchell and his accomplice/wife, Wanda Barzee, remain in jail awaiting trial.

The Smart family hopes to avoid subjecting Elizabeth to the personal pain of having to recount her horrific experience as a court witness.

The Smart case once again brought to public attention the power of “brainwashing.”

For nine months the teenager traveled with the deranged duo that abducted her, seemingly cooperating with them and taking on their mindset.

As the story unfolded subsequent to Elizabeth’s rescue it became clear that Mitchell isolated and terrorized the girl for two months before beginning their travels.

During that time as an act of self-preservation and a byproduct of controlled influence Elizabeth largely lost her sense of identity and assumed a new “cult-like” persona.

Returned to the security of her family that cultic identity quickly crumbled and the girl resumed her former life.

This fall Elizabeth plans to attend her regular school and once again will be amongst old friends and classmates.

However, as the Smart family and Elizabeth know, their life will never really be the same again.

This time it is Louis Farrakhan Jr. 45, charged with beating his child. And junior has a sorry record of domestic violence, reports the Daily Southtown.

He plead guilty to beating his pregnant wife three years ago and received probation.

Earlier in May another Farrakhan, Nasir H. Farrakhan of Chicago, was charged for leaving the scene of an accident (‘hit and run”) and drunk driving.

What a mess the Farrakhan family seems to be.

Was Louis Farrakhan Sr. so busy leading the Nation of Islam that he neglected his family?

What guidance did he provide for his seemingly troubled sons as they grew up? And what will the prominent preacher do now?

The Nation of Islam certainly doesn’t doctrinally condone the type of behavior displayed by the Farrakhan children.

Perhaps Minister Farrakhan should take a sabbatical and spend more quality time with his family to straighten things out.