Feb 18, 2010

The Senate lends Scientology a helping hand

Last week, the Senate allowed Scientology to respond in Hansard to allegations made against them. As usual, the cult used it as an opportunity to attack its former members.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Last week, the Senate Privileges Committee permitted the Church of Scientology to respond in Hansard to issues raised by Senator Nick Xenophon in November last year.  The Scientologists promptly issued a press release declaring they had responded to Xenophon "in Parliament", as if they had some sort of elected status. In allowing the Scientologist response into Hansard, the Privileges Committee has allowed itself to be made party to an attack on individuals who were brave enough to raise their treatment at the hands of Scientology. It takes guts for ex-Scientologists to come out and reveal what they have suffered, particularly those -- and this is a recurring theme among ex-Scientologists -- who admit that they themselves harmed other members while within the cult. The mere act of leaving the cult earns them ostracism and often the severance of contact with loved ones. To reveal their suffering at the hands of the cult frequently leads to public attacks. Such attacks occupy much of the cult’s response to Xenophon, which the committee, without giving reasons, decided merited entry into Hansard. "The bulk of the Senator’s presentation relied on letters containing unsubstantiated allegations made by a few disgruntled apostates," the Scientologists claim. The apostasy line is key, because the Scientologists want to argue that any ex-members who reveal their treatment are simply "shifting responsibility". To back it up, they quote a special Scientology-commissioned essay by late US cult-expert Lonnie D. Kliever, which suggests "even the accounts of voluntary defectors with no grudges to bear must be used with caution". The line is, basically: no criticism of Scientology by ex-members can ever be accepted as valid because these are people blaming the cult for their own problems. Not satisfied with that, the Scientologists then effectively call their critics liars, noting that they have previously been on the public record as being positive about their experience with the cult. "Such positive statements are consistent with the experiences of millions of other parishioners of Scientology. That these people now hold a different view is entirely their own personal affair." One of the fascinating aspects of the remarkable investigation of the cult by Florida’s St Petersburg Times last year, which chronicles among other things widespread physical abuse, including by Scientologist leader David Miscavige, is the admission by former high-level Scientology executives such as Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder that they readily lied to the press and in sworn affidavits to cover up embarrassing or even criminal activity occurring within Scientology ranks.   Rinder was the Scientology spokesman at whom BBC reporter John Sweeney famously lost it in 2007.  He now says he engaged in a systematic practice of denial to protect the cult: "just deny it. Nope. Not true. Never happened." The cult directly accuses its victims of lying in its statement to the Senate Privileges Committee, smearing them in the process:
The allegations of Aaron Saxton and Carmel Underwood regarding forced abortions are untrue. The Church of Scientology does not counsel expectant mothers to have abortions and has never forced anyone to obtain one. Sworn statements have been obtained from numerous female Church staff members who served during the same time as Carmel Underwood, all of whom became pregnant while on staff, some as many as three times, and all of whom state that they were never encouraged, pressured or even suggested to have an abortion. They all state that they were well cared for and given time off as needed to care for their children, as was Carmel Underwood.
So let’s pull together the evidence about forced abortions in Scientology, which, remember, was just one of several serious issues raised by Senator Xenophon. The requirement for pregnant women at the elite "Sea Org" level within Scientology to have abortions, has long been rumoured, but former members have repeatedly confirmed it through sworn evidence. Mary Tabayoyon, a former staffer to no less than L. Ron Hubbard, swore in 1994 that:
Beginning in 1986, members of the Sea Org were forbidden to have any more children if they were to stay on post and the Hubbard technology was applied to coercively persuade us to have abortions so that we could remain on post.
In 1998, Jesse Prince swore an affidavit that:
In late 1991, my wife Monika became pregnant and although we were elated, she was ordered to abort the child. The reason for the abortion order is that Sea Org members were not allowed to have children. The order devastated both my wife and me. Our dedication as Sea Org members clashed violently with our intentions as parents and we went through a personal nightmare with me opposing it, to no avail. She got the abortion and afterwards she was not the same.
In Laura DeCrescenzo’s suit against the cult in 2009, she stated in her statement of claim that she had been forced to have an abortion at the age of 17.  DeCrescenzo was one of six former Scientologists who spoke of the suffering they had endured within Scientology at a press conference in Los Angeles last Friday.  The group’s claims were as always dismissed as fabricated by Scientology. Clarie Headley similarly filed a statement that she was ordered to have two abortions, one in 1994 and the other in 1996, the latter at her own expense, under threat of being ejected from Scientology.  Rathbun has spoken of how abortion had become an "institutional prerequisite" under Miscavige. Two former female "Sea Orgs", including Miscavige’s niece, told American ABC News of the abortion policy.  One, Astra Woodcraft, made a sworn statement that:
... a staff member from the Religious Technology Center (the Sea Org's highest organisation) came up to me one day while I was in the process of routing out and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was pregnant and leaving and he said to me "Oh, too late for an abortion?" I personally knew of three other girls who got pregnant and were convinced to get abortions. One was my sister-in-law who was 16 weeks pregnant when she was convinced to abort her child although she was strongly against it.
A former Scientology staff member (i.e. below the rank of Sea Org) Terra Hattaway told a Georgia court that she was subject to continual efforts to persuade her to have an abortion. These are just some of numerous cases of former Scientologists reporting themselves manipulated, coerced or persuaded to have abortions. So far no evidence has emerged that the abortion requirement is imposed on ordinary Scientologist "parishioners". To use the Scientologists’ phrase in their statement to the Privileges Committee, "all of these matters are the subject of documented evidence and sworn witness statements." There is clear evidence that there was a policy among US Scientology of coerced abortion among high-level "Sea Org" members, and in at least one case, at Scientology staff level, below that of Sea Org. This material would all have been available to the Privileges Committee had it bothered to conduct some basic research. Instead, people prepared to speak out against Scientology have been attacked in Hansard.  The Privileges Committee, headed by Liberal George Brandis and Labor’s Jacinta Collins, should explain to the Senate why it was party to what, on the face of it, appears to be a misleading of the Senate. The committee isn’t the only body that has been derelict in its basic research into Scientology. The Prime Minister responded to Senator Xenophon’s material in November by saying this:
Many people in Australia have real concerns about Scientology. I share some of those concerns. But let us proceed carefully, and look carefully at the material which he has provided, before we make a decision on further Parliamentary action. And we intend to provide appropriate examination of the material which he has put forward.
That was on November 18.  I asked the Prime Minister’s office two days ago what follow-up there had been to this statement.  The PMO said that the matter had been referred to Chris Evans, the leader of the Government in the Senate.  Despite the two days’ notice, Evans’ office had not responded by deadline.  In December, Evans’ office told correspondents that the Government did not support an inquiry into the issues raised by Senator Xenophon as it was "inappropriate to conduct an inquiry into a private and, in this case, religious organisation". Taxpayers continue to subsidise the Church of Scientology to the tune of at least tens of millions of dollars a year, courtesy of its tax-free status as a religion in Australia.

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120 thoughts on “The Senate lends Scientology a helping hand

  1. Bogdanovist

    Scientology will never have its tax free status removed, or any of the other privileges it enjoys as a religion. No western government wants to get into the business of defining what is an isn’t a religion, and the chance of blowback affecting the ‘regular’ religions in some way through such a process is high.

    When Ireland went through its painful process of sorting out the systemic sexual abuse in the Catholic Church no one called for the church to cease being classed as a religion, only that it be made to be as transparent in these matters as any other organisation. The same has to be done for Scientology.

    When it gets down to it, the arguments about why Scientology isn’t really a religion (which Keane presumably agrees with given the scared quoted ‘parishioners’ in the above article) essentially apply just as aptly to the more established religions. The pollies know this, which is why they won’t touch this with a barge pole. You couldn’t specifically legislate against Scientology in Australia, so any legislation written in general terms but aimed against Scientology would put all religions at great risk of being affected in some way.

    If you want to talk about the legitimacy of any religion having tax free status I’m all ears, but clearly that is a debate that no politician in a major party would have a bar of.

  2. Perry Gretton

    How any government could allow Scientology to retain its tax-free status is beyond me.

    Is this not becoming the most timid government we’ve ever had? Every ‘hard’ decision is avoided or deferred.

  3. Neil Hunt

    I’d term the French a “Western government”, and yet since 1995 Scientology has been classified as a secte, or a “cult”.

  4. Julius

    In the 1960s Mr Justice Anderson, a good Catholic father of eight and Victorian Supreme Court Justice, sat as Royal Commissioner invetigating the Scientologists who, at that time, hadn’t even claimed the status of a religion to the best of my knowledge. He found there bizarre, fraudulent and unscientific psychological practices justified action against them and, as a result the Psychological Practices Act was passed which effectually meant that other forms of nonsense, like Arthur Janov’s Primal Screaming and various EST like cults were usually centred in Sydney.

    Religion proved the key to longevity and wealth with idiot stars like Tom Cruise and James Packer fronting for something that Seneca or Marcus Aurelius would have thought made early Christians look sensible.

    While on the whole one would prefer fools to put their money into the hands of legal casino owners and bookmakers who will probably invest wisely the fleecing of the foolish is not as big a point that emerges from Mr Keane’s story as the failure of the Senate to protect the names and reputations of those attacked by the Scientologists. Presumably the right to reply given to the Scientologists has given them absolute privilege for any defamation contained in what is now in the Senate Hansard. If so, it is utterly shameful and a disgrace to the Senate that every Senator should take it upon him or herself to redress so it cannot happen again.

    So keep at it Bernard Keane. Perhaps you can inspire Senator Xenophon to take up that issue too. It is true that people can be defamed without redress by MPs and Senators but at least that is always known to be done under privilege and discounted accordingly. As you point out it is a big step further to allow outsiders to repeat, ad nauseam, “as was said in a document formally laid before the Senate XY is a violent criminal”.

  5. Scott

    Our High court has already said that in regards to the law, Scientology is a religion. Do you really think putting the word “cult” 11 times in this article is going to change it?
    I’m not a scientologist, but I am for freedom of religion in this country (as it is one of the few rights explicitly mentioned in the constitution). The government should not be anywhere near this.

  6. meski

    Damn, will I never learn not to post angle brackets?


    (waiting to spot the obvious post from a scientologist goon)

  7. Sancho

    I haven’t seen any obvious Scientologists around here, Meski. Just CEC loonies. I wonder if the CEC will defend Scientology out of a sense of solidarity between organisations that prey on the mentally ill.

  8. Sancho

    Oh, wait. I didn’t read Scott’s comment. Here’s a tip for future proseletysing, Scott: no-one believes Scientology is legitimate except Scientologists. You’re much better off being open about it and arguing from a position of candidness.

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