By DAVID SOMMER
The Tampa Tribune
12/8/99 CLEARWATER - Freedom of religion should not protect the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization from facing criminal charges in the death of a parishioner after 17 days of isolation in the Fort Harrison Hotel, prosecutors contend. In a series of responses filed seven months after church lawyers first asked that charges of abuse of a disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license be dismissed, State Attorney Bernie McCabe said that Lisa McPherson was denied proper medical attention out of greed and fear on the part of church officials. Church lawyers have asked Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer to dismiss the charges on grounds that the very notion of charging a church with crimes is unconstitutional and virtually unprecedented in U.S. history. But ever since the U.S. Supreme Court banned polygamy in the late 1800s, the court has "distinguished between the right to hold a religious belief ... and the right to engage in a religious practice or conduct that violates the criminal law," prosecutors wrote. In McPherson's case, the Church of Scientology violated its own rules against treating mental illness, prosecutors contend. And church officials had twin fears of losing McPherson's business to conventional doctors and of garnering bad publicity when church critics learned McPherson suffered a mental breakdown just months after being declared "clear," a state in which Scientology deems adherents free of psychic disorders, the prosecutors wrote. In the year before her death on Dec. 5, 1995, McPherson paid $58,000 for "treatment" to become "clear," which church literature defines as an almost superhuman state, prosecutors said. When McPherson died, her bank accounts contained about $151, they wrote. Schaeffer is to decide the constitutionality issue before the scheduled March 6 trial date.