Disconnection has ended marriages and separated children from their parents.
In a Hubbard Communication Office Bulletin (the official policy of the Church of Scientology), L. Ron Hubbard sets out the doctrine that by being connected to Suppressive Persons, a Scientologist could become a Potential Trouble Source (PTS):
A Scientologist can become PTS by reason of being connected to someone that is antagonistic to Scientology or its tenets. In order to resolve the PTS condition, he either HANDLES the other person's antagonism (as covered in the materials on PTS handling) or, as a last resort when all attempts to handle have failed, he disconnects from the person. He is simply exercising his right to communicate or not to communicate with a particular person.
The bulletin states that failure to disconnect from a Suppressive must itself be labeled a Suppressive Act.
The policy was introduced in 1965 and revoked in 1968 before this 1983 re-introduction.
According to Church statements, disconnection is used as a "last resort," only to be employed if the persons antagonistic to Scientology do not cease their antagonism -- even after being provided with "true data" about Scientology, since it is taught that usually only people with false data are antagonistic to the Church.
A belief that disconnection was not being used as a last resort led a group of British Scientologists to resign from the Church in 1984, while keeping their allegiance to the beliefs of Scientology. Their interpretation was that the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard "encourage the unity of the family" and therefore that the disconnection policy was "a misrepresentation or misapplication".
In 1966 UK newspaper the Daily Mail quoted a disconnection letter from Scientologist Karen Henslow to her mother:
"Dear Mother, I am hereby disconnecting from you because you are suppressive to me. You evaluate for me, invalidate me, interrupt me and remove all my gains. And you are destroying me.
"I [unreadable] from this time consider myself disconnected from you and I do not want to see you or hear from you again. From now you don't exist in my life.
The official New Zealand government report into the Church of Scientology (the Dumbleton-Fowles report) quoted from a number of disconnection letters. Teenage Scientologist Erin O'Donnell had written to her non-Scientologist aunt, "If you try to ring me I will not answer, I will not read any mail you send, and I refuse to have anything to do with you in any way whatsoever. All communication is cut completely."
The official UK Government investigation into Scientology (the Foster Report of 1971) reproduced a number of internal Ethics Orders. One of these, dating from November 1967, concerns a member who had asked for a refund. It declares him to be a Suppressive Person and continues, "Any and all persons connected [to him] are declared Potential Trouble Sources and are not to be Trained or Processed before they have presented evidence in writing [...] of handling or disconnecting.
The sociologist Roy Wallis found that at one point it was conventional to publish notices of disconnection in The Auditor, an internal Church of Scientology publication.
Vosper (1971, Plate 1) reproduces a "Declaration of Enemy" that was issued in response to his own violations of Scientology Ethics. It states, "Anyone connected to him is not to be processed or trained until he or she has disconnected from him in writing." In "A Piece of Blue Sky", Jon Atack describes being ordered to disconnect from a friend in 1983, shortly after the policy was re-introduced.
In 1984, another investigation by the Daily Mail brought up further examples of disconnection, including a 13 year old boy who disconnected from his father and a woman who said her fiancé was forced to abandon her. The fiancé concerned said "it was a personal decision" and a Church of Scientology spokesman was quoted denying that there is a policy to split up relationships.
Also in 1984, The Mail on Sunday interviewed Gulliver Smithers, a former Scientologist who had left the group's base at Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead at age 14. Smithers explained that disconnection was an everyday part of life in Saint Hill, "It goes round by word of mouth when someone is an outcast. He or she is just ignored and shunned. It was what we were brought up to do."
In a lengthy court case in the 1980s, ex-member Lawrence Wollersheim successfully argued that he had been coerced into disconnecting from his wife, parents and other family members. Since the disconnection was not voluntary, it did not count as protected religious practice.
In 1995, the UK local paper Kent Today talked to Pauline Day, whose Scientologist daughter Helen had sent a disconnection letter and then dropped all contact, even changing her phone number. A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology denied that this decision had anything to do with the Church.
A Buffalo News investigation in 2005 spoke to the sisters and brother of Fred Lennox, a Scientologist who, according to them, was being manipulated and exploited financially by the group. The paper also quoted an internal Ethics Order instructing him to "handle or disconnect" from his sister Tanya because of anti-Scientology comments she had made online. Lennox himself and Church of Scientology spokesmen denied this.
In January 2008, Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of David Miscavige, spoke out about the policy's effect on her family. She revealed that, once her parents left and she remained in the group, she had been forbidden to answer the telephone in case she spoke to them and that her parents only restored occasional access to her by threatening legal action.
Another second-generation Scientologist, Astra Woodcraft, told ABC's Nightline that she had been forbidden any contact with her father once he left the Church and she was still a member. She used her weekly laundry time to secretly meet up with him.
This view is not shared by all religious scholars. J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of American Religion said that disconnection goes much further than the policies of most modern religions. Newton Maloney of Fuller Theological Seminary also described the policy as "too extreme." The Buffalo News report consulted Stephen A. Kent of the University of Alberta, who said that hostility towards critics, including the member's own family, is an ingrained part of Scientology Ethics, according to which the survival of the Church is all-important.