Counterpunch: Church of Scientology on Xenophonwww.counterpunch.comBy: Virginia Stewart
There are few modern politicians enthusiastic about using the powers of parliament to interfere in religious belief.
And there is a good reason for this. Politicians have no role to play in people’s personal belief systems and most agree with this.
If members of a church are seen to have offended against the laws of society, then society has ways of providing redress through the institutions of the law.
This is the correct procedure and has been used in instances involving alleged criminal wrong-doing by members of other faiths. The Catholic Church was not condemned as “criminal” for the behaviour of some of its aberrant priests which were clearly in violation of all tenets of that faith.
I believe that Australia’s legislative and judicial system is measured and based on the rule of evidence. It is not sensationalist and based on hysteria and controversial sound-bites.
But it is the rare politician who seeks to be involved in witch-hunt, inquisition or vilification - the actions of the intolerant mob, not a discerning and pluralistic society.
So where does Senator Xenophon fit into this model?
He has shown that he is willing to use the forms of parliament to denounce a church as “criminal” with allegations based on nothing more than sensationalist stories, with no other evidence tabled to date.
As an experienced media operator he knows how to use the media for best effect. His Chief of Staff is former Today Tonight reporter Rohan Wenn, an old hand at such tactics.
Xenophon has refused to meet Church representatives or members for almost 6 months despite repeated invitations. The tactic of labeling and publicly denigrating a group before it is destroyed is one that that has been used throughout history.
Even the most deservedly accused criminal has a right to state a defence openly in a fair and objective forum. We too deserve this chance. Senator Xenophon tactics have prepared the way for any defense of Scientology’s position to be ignored due to his denigration of Scientologists and this is shockingly unfair.
The former members have evolved as the focal point for a discussion on the nature of Scientology. Each of them long-term former members, who spoke for decades in glowing forms about their faith and experiences.
Suddenly in the space of a few months, religious devotion has become entrapment. Education in Scientology is brainwashing. Incidents involving their own direct involvement are escalated and warped into “crimes” committed by the Church.
Such distortions become possible when love turns to hate. Other bizarre claims stem strictly from the imagination.
I will not argue at length here about the morality of treating unsubstantiated, unproven and untested allegation as truth. This is a matter for Senator Xenophon and his parliamentary colleagues to reflect upon.
In matters of tax exemptions, the Church of Scientology differs from many other religions and there clearly are confusions on a broader note. My church only operates through private donations.
Personal donations made to the Church of Scientology are not tax deductible so Scientologists pay tax on hard-earned funds they wish to donate as part of their free exercise of their belief. For the government to then tax the Church on donations received, would in essence be double dipping of the worst kind.
The Church of Scientology does not own or run any businesses. We are not an unfair competition to the profit-making sector. We only deliver Scientology religious services and our members donate to keep their church open and delivering such.
Also significant is the fact that we do not obtain any grants from either state or federal governments. No tax-payer money funds our social and community programs – we fund them all ourselves through our member donations.
In the last two years for instance Scientologists handed out nearly half a million drug-drug booklets on the streets, mostly one-on-one. Our hard work and hundreds of hours of volunteer work in the community is done because we care.
Such prejudiced behaviour breaks out from time to time in human societies.
In the 1960s, when Scientology was in its infancy and was criticised by the Victorian government, officials of the Church said they would welcome an investigation if the government would at the same time investigate the practices of psychiatry - it never did.
An attempt to legislate Scientology out of existence failed and the law that did pass was fully repealed in 1981 by the Victorian Health Minister, who stated that it was a “draconian law passed in a time of hysteria”.
The Health Minister’s wisdom was further confirmed when the unanimous bench of the Australian High Court judges proclaimed Scientology a bona fide religion worthy of full tax exemption in 1983.
So, with the support of a leading psychiatrist, Dr Thomas Szasz, Scientologists formed the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) in 1969. It was this group that exposed a raft of psychiatric crimes ranging from the drug-induced comas and deaths at Chelmsford private hospital in Sydney to the psychiatric slave-labour camps in South Africa.
CCHR has gone on to investigate many other abuses within mental health around the world. Its work has brought about the warning labels on antidepressants and legislation to enforce consent for the use of electric shock treatment.
Scientology is now recognised in most civilised countries as a religious group and our members are free to practice the religion of their choice, as they should be.
Scientology is unique in that it is a practical religious philosophy that answers questions about life and living. Its tenets can be used to improve one’s own life and to help others, but ultimately Scientology helps people regain their spiritual self knowledge.
These spiritual truths are not unique to Scientology - all religions have them or seek them.
As to the rest of Senator Xenophon’s allegations: Rest assumed the Church will take these seriously and is already compiling all necessary information and as we have said all along we will certainly cooperate with the authorities. But we will not condone a witch-hunt based on lies and propaganda and neither will the majority of other rational Australians.