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The Scientology inquisition

The Senate, Scientology and Steve:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Sport yes, taxpayer subsidy of abuse no — the logic of Senate inquiries” (yesterday, item 1). Bernard Keane’s analysis of the Scientology debate is wrong-headed.

Firstly, he endorses Keating’s condemnation of the Senate as “unrepresentative swill”, which is quite inapposite.  Keating’s real complaint was that the upper house, with its proportional voting system, was too representative of the broad spectrum of public opinion, giving voice to minor parties and independents. It makes no sense to use this slur to criticise the major parties for voting down independent Senator Nick Xenophon.  Major party domination is what Keating wanted.

Secondly, allegations against Scientology have been comprehensively aired in the media and in the parliament.  There is no sense in which they are being suppressed.  Cases of abuse should be dealt by the courts, not politicians.  A Senate inquiry, on the other hand, with its power to compel witnesses, has the potential to degenerate into a witch-hunt, which would be a serious attack on freedom of religion.  It raises the spectre of Scientologists being jailed indefinitely for refusing to answer questions.

Thirdly, the issue of Scientology’s tax status is at best a red herring and at worst religious persecution. Clearly higher taxation is not an appropriate response to abuse.  

And the prospect of politicians punishing religions by withdrawal of tax concessions is highly undesirable. Undoubtedly minority religions would be targeted.  As would politically inconvenient charities.  In Scientology’s case, it is often said that it is really a profit-making business and should be taxed as such.  However, these allegations co-exist with equal and opposite allegations that it is a zany, dogmatic cult.  The critics can’t have it both ways.

Lastly, a common complaint against Scientology is that it campaigns against psychiatry.  This would undoubtedly be canvassed in a Senate inquiry.  At this point it would stop being an attack on freedom of religion and become an attack on freedom of speech.  These issues should be dealt with by public debate, not inquisition.

 


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