Nick Xenophon's back-door approach to bring
Scientology under scrutiny through an ill-conceived Tax Amendment Bill
on charities has had the effect
of alarming religious groups large and small to his unholy crusade. Now
they too could be drawn into the strange vortex Xenophon is creating
with his call for charities to be measured not only by public benefit
(which they currently already are) but also by the criteria of
detriment or harm.
These are murky and dangerous waters for a government to wade into, for
who is to judge detriment or harm and how is this to be measured
against public benefit? Indeed how are religious groups to be judged
within the framework of contemporary society? The tiny Confessing
Church founded in Germany in the 1930s protested against the Nazi
racial laws. It plotted against the regime and conspired to assassinate
Nazi leaders. The group was severely suppressed and Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, their leader, was executed in 1945. Today Bonhoeffer is
regarded as a hero of modern Christianity, not a violent cult leader.
An interesting case where the cult got it right and the mainstream
churches in Germany did not.
Go further back a few centuries and you will find the Quakers who
opposed slavery, the Methodists who thought prisoners should hear the
word of God and more recently in the Salvation Army who preached about
the demon drink and temperance. Such is the evolution of religious
groups, all once considered unpopular and heavily persecuted, but which
today stand as accepted religions with a public benefit.
Perhaps to the atheist religion may sound like a tax break, yet this
reveals an ignorance about why people hold to a faith if they so
choose. Religion postulates creation from a super-natural source and
adherents to these ideas believe in a relationship with their creator
to make life more complete. Stemming from these beliefs is a genuine
impulse to help one's fellow man and to help create a more peaceful
world. One only needs to turn to texts of the various religions or talk
to their members to find this out.
Religious groups are part of the fabric of society and their good works
their own communities as well as the wider community probably
save governments far more money than they might otherwise be taxed for.
While volunteerism isn't the sole domain of the religious person, it is
far more likely that people who volunteer their time and effort do so
through a religious conviction than any other. Organisations such as
the Red Cross and Amnesty International had religious beginnings even
though many of their volunteers now come from different walks of life.
Scientology has been receiving undue attention in the Australian media
who appear to rely on a disproportionate amount of antagonistic sources
with stereotyped accusations and heresay, choreographed for maximum
effect. It is this bandwagon Senator Xenophon has climbed upon with a
campaign that reflects more his profession as an ambulance-chasing
lawyer than a politician. He has two former Today
Tonight staff now working for
him as advisors and a small band of aggrieved former Scientology
members whom he brought before the Senate Committee to air their
well-worn tales of woe.
The Church of Scientology representatives at the Senate hearing said
they would contribute to the discussion about the possible formation of
a charities commission in Australia. Why shouldn't we - the Church is
already charitable in Australia with a landmark legal decision defining
what a religion is and the New Zealand Charities Commission Act 2006
uses the same precise wording from this decision in their definition of
religion - Scientology is charitable there too.
With a relatively small number of adherents compared to the major
religions of the world, Scientology's public works are many and in some
cases world leaders. Take for example the Drug-free World programme
which is the largest non-government drug education programme. So too is
our human rights education programme. Our Volunteer Ministers rank now
amongst the world's largest disaster relief groups and our Citizens
Commission on Human Rights is the world's largest mental health reform
Perhaps it is the latter that has upset the psycho-pharmaceutical and
psychiatric industries and could explain why Australian of the Year,
psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, and Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind
Institute, also appeared at Senator Xenophon's side in May saying
Scientology should be inquired into. Scientology is bad for their
business they said, but closer to the truth is that CCHR helped lobby
to get warning labels put onto antidepressants due to their adverse
side-effects. Warning labels of "may cause suicidal thinking" isn't
good for anyone's business, especially when you want the Government to
chip in several million dollars to your latest mental-health campaign.
While Scientology is a spiritual journey for the individual it also
addresses issues in the modern world with solutions that anyone can
apply to help bring about a happier and saner world
Ferriss is Secretary of the
Church of Scientology of New Zealand and attended the Economics
Committee Senate Inquiry into the Tax Amendment Bill 2010 as one of the