It's an official religion in the United States, but Scientology remains controversial and mysterious to many. In a special report, ABC7 takes you inside D.C.'s Church of Scientology.
L. Ron Hubbard was an author, aviator and explorer. He also developed Dianetics, the modern science of mental health, and then Scientology in 1950. Celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta are members.
Its only church in the Washington area is at 16th and P Streets Northwest. Inside, there is a Public Information Center with videos, books and enthusiastic followers. In the course room people study Scientology's Holy Scriptures. And the Purification Center is designed to rid the body of toxins.
Hubbard's creation theory of a despot named Xenu sending surplus beings to volcanoes on earth is considered confidential material. And counselors use Hubbard's invention called an "e-meter" to identify a person's problem areas.
To critics, Scientology goes beyond simply strange. Paul Sheehan hosts a radio show on Fairfax Public Access. He's picketed the church and says it intimidates by suing and spying.
Gisela, a woman who was afraid to publicly give her last name, belonged to the D.C. church back in the 1980s. She says the pressure and the control almost killed her.
"I had nightmares," said Gisela. "It was excruciating what I had to go through there."
The church dismisses such criticism as nonsense and says that Scientology is not a cult.
"We're a new religion. Every new religion has been attacked throughout history," noted Sylvia Stanard, Deputy Executive Director, Scientology National Affairs Office. "If you look at your history, Christians were being thrown to the lions even a hundred years after Christianity started."
Church officials insist they do not harass or spy on people and say their membership is growing.