11 Jun 2008

School unaware of link to Scientologists

Vancouver Sun - June 11, 2008

A 'lesson learned' when group was 'not as forthcoming as they needed to be,' principal says
Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun

A Vancouver principal said his school was uninformed when it invited a group affiliated with the Church of Scientology to speak to a student assembly last month about human rights.

John Bevacqua, of St. Patrick regional secondary school, said he hadn't been aware that Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) is part of the Scientology movement until it was brought to his attention by a staff member shortly after the group finished its presentation.

"It was very unfortunate that they were not as forthcoming as they needed to be," he said of YHRI. "It was a lesson learned." The group was invited into the school on the recommendation of students who had heard representatives speak at a conference and were impressed with the message. The students gained the support of teacher sponsors, who vouched for the group and extended the invitation, Bevacqua said.

Asked if the school conducts background checks before inviting organizations to speak to students, the principal said "there's always a process we go through" and added that the sponsoring teachers had assured him the group was fine.

Susan Kerr, a Scientologist and Vancouver spokeswoman for YHRI, said the group was formed several years ago to educate young people about human rights, and its connection to the Church of Scientology is irrelevant.

"This has nothing to do with the church proselytizing," Kerr said in an interview."It's just about human rights."

Bevacqua confirmed there was no mention of Scientology during the May 12 presentation at the independent Catholic school on East 11th Avenue and said he didn't have any problem with the human-rights message. Still, he said the group probably wouldn't have been invited if school officials had been aware of its affiliation.

"There would have been more discussion," he said. "We probably wouldn't have [invited them]."

The issue became a topic of Internet discussion after student John Ray Catingub commented about the event on his blog and questioned the group's human-rights credentials. His post was titled A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.

Catingub, who is in Grade 11, said the group's affiliation became obvious after proponents handed out pamphlets to students that listed L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder, in a list of five famous human rights leaders, along with Kofi Annan, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Voltaire.

He questioned the validity of a human-rights message coming from the Church of Scientology and said in an interview he wondered why the school allowed YHRI to speak to a forum of about 450 students.

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