The Age - Australia March 21, 2010
Cults should be given nowhere to hide
MICHAEL BACHELARD | The Age
Despite criminal investigations, these groups continue unfettered.
THE recent evidence of the psychological harm caused by religious cults could not be more graphic.
On ABC TV's Four Corners, Liz and James Anderson told how their indoctrination in Scientology saw them part with hundreds of thousands of dollars buying the outpourings of guru L. Ron Hubbard. Eventually they also lost one of their daughters, signing guardianship to a Scientologist slave labour camp called Sea Org.
Today Tonight then revealed how a NSW-based Exclusive Brethren doctor, Mark Craddock, had chemically castrated a young man to suppress his sex drive because he was gay. When Today Tonight dared to film him with victim Craig Hoyle outside the Brethren headquarters, they were pursued around Sydney by cars full of young thugs who are facing criminal charges.
Despite this latest evidence, the Senate rejected Nick Xenophon's request for an inquiry into Scientology when both major parties voted against it. We've been down this road before. Through much of 2006 and 2007, the Greens tried to get a Senate inquiry into the Exclusive Brethren, and the major parties vetoed it. The Liberal Party's serial cult apologist, Eric Abetz, dismissed the victims of these damaging organisations as people ''voluntarily allowing themselves to be brainwashed''.
This means that, in Australia, cults are thriving under the protection of politicians, the police and the courts.
When it comes to notions of religious freedom, our thinking is dangerously woolly. The only cult indoctrination we take seriously is by Islamic terror groups. The recent counter-terrorism white paper recognised the process of radicalisation that young Muslim men undergo before committing acts of violence.
But the same techniques of coercive persuasion make Scientologists sign away guardianship of their children; have abortions at someone else's demand; or make Exclusive Brethren members teach their children that their estranged father is ''of the devil''.
All this causes damage that is lifelong and debilitating. And yet politicians are petrified of being seen to infringe the right of an apparently religious group to do whatever it wants. We need to ruthlessly tighten up our understanding in this area. The state should only allow a religion as much freedom as the members of that religion themselves enjoy. So unless the faithful are free to argue, to question their leaders, to be gay, to quit and go to another church with their families intact, then the religion itself should be taxed, regulated, should lose school funding and be put out of business.
We could use the International Charter of Human Rights as our model of appropriate behaviour. And we should have a commissioner of religions to enforce the law. Religious freedom should not be granted unconditionally. And by their practices we should know them.
Kevin Rudd and others have urged victims of the Exclusive Brethren to report criminal activity. But the criminal law is not up to dealing with cults. In 1998, the federal government's Model Criminal Code committee recommended that the states and territories rejig assault laws to deal with the effects of cult indoctrination.
The committee said it should be a crime to cause ''harm to a person's mental health, whether temporary or permanent''. All states and territories should put this clause into their crimes act, the committee found.
Then damaged individuals would have an option. At the moment, the only recourse is to sue. A criminal sanction would mean the victim would simply be a witness to a case investigated by police and run by the state.
One or two successful criminal prosecutions and jail terms for cult leaders should be enough to convince the rest of them to allow people to see their children.
But the implementation of that recommendation has been woeful. We need to get it clear that cults that deliberately harm people while they hide behind the skirts of religion are not legitimate. They should not enjoy the protection of the law against their victims. They should not have taxpayer concessions or get government funding for schools. And they should be answerable for their crimes in the dock.
Michael Bachelard is a senior Sunday Age journalist and author of Behind the Exclusive Brethren.
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Brisbane Times - Australia March 20, 2010
Cult survivor relives history of servitude
Helen Pomery and David Lowe remember a former life of servitude.
"I had to submit and be obedient to my husband," Ms Pomery, a 60-year-old Brisbane mother, claims.
"I had to submit and be obedient to the church elders and I had to cut off my daughter."
This, she was assured, was key to her eternal salvation.
"We lived at Samford on acreage. We were ordinary. We just happened to go to an extraordinary church..."
The church - the Brisbane Christian Fellowship (BCF) - nestled in the Samford Valley in Brisbane's north, has a loyal following.
Church elders preach sacrifice, submission and obedience, she claimed.
To the church faithful, they are God's messengers.
But beyond the public face of the church, strategically hidden from the congregation, is human devastation.
Families have been torn apart, and psychological counselling required by former members.
Not that Ms Pomery could see the potential for damage when she arrived with her husband and three children in Maryborough from South Australia.
"We were Christians, we were looking for a new church.
"Then the Brisbane Christian Fellowship sent a pastor to our house.
"They present well; they had a lot of credibility. They are very kind and responsive people. You get embraced by the fellowship and you think `this is lovely.'"
But as her husband became more involved with the church's elders, demands became more strict.
The BCF demands followers attain sinless perfection.
As part of this, female followers are expected to sacrifice their free will to men, Ms Pomery says.
"The elders held a men's sexuality seminar out here and they said that my body was not my body it was his body, so my husband had every right to demand that whenever he chose.
"I know of wives whose husbands said that they couldn't use the car to go out other than to the shops. So the husband wrote down the (odometer) reading in the morning and checked the (odometer) at night.
"I know of other wives whose husbands gave them a list each morning and said, `You will complete the tasks on this list today.'
"The women have to keep submitting and obeying. They are not allowed to have a voice."
Yet women are not the only victims of emotional abuse here.
Mr Lowe, an electrician by trade, joined the church 13 years after his wife.
"After 13 years of not having my family home on weekends and during the week...I went in," he says.
"I slogged my guts out, gave all my money to the church...and what for - for nothing."
"They preach you are a slave and you should be happy to be a slave."
Rosanne Henry, a specialist in cult recovery in the United States, says the directives are the classic fruits of mind control or thought reform.
Cults, she says, exploit normal needs by extraordinary means.
The first is `love bombing'.
"We all want to belong and feel loved and valued," she says.
Ms Pomery shared her journey at the Cult Information and Family Support Group Queensland Conference held in Brisbane last week.
Her church life became unbearable when her eldest daughter married a leader's son.
The family was in the inner-fold.
"When you're closer to a cult leader he has to have (you) under his complete control. He will make sure that the elders have their allegiance to him, above their allegiance to their wife and children," she says.
"Those men (elders) will sacrifice their marriages; they will sacrifice their children; and they will do anything they are told to do.
"It's an acid test."
Helen was first targeted because she dared to write a journal.
"The elders said to my husband that my journalling was part of my rebellion in that I was having private thoughts and I was not submitted to my husband.
"I was disciplined. I had to write confessions. I was banned from taking communion. In the end, I was banned from going to the church. I was kept home to write assignments. This is in a marriage of 30 years."
Women in the congregation receive their orders from the elders in writing.
"My daughter - she was 26 at the time - was given a letter to leave the house," Ms Pomery says.
"She was given a week to leave the house, because she dated a boy outside the group. Dating, courtship and marriage are all tightly controlled.
"The conditions put on me were that I was not allowed to phone her. I wasn't even allowed send her re-addressed letters that came to the house. I was to cut her off as if she were dead.
"I submitted to that for six months, but I heard via other family that she was feeling ill and she was sick, so I reached out to her.
"A year later, in 2001, I was given a letter to leave the house.
"I left. I was only allowed back if I could fulfil three conditions: I had to submit and be obedient to my husband, I had to submit and be obedient to the elders and I had to cut off my daughter.
"I couldn't fulfil those conditions. I would have gone back and tried to submit, but I said I wouldn't cut off my daughter. As a result of that I was never allowed back to my family home.
"To them, I was unsubmitted, wicked, and despicably evil."
Helen was excommunicated.
"I was suicidal. They had taken everything I love, everything I hold dear."
"There have been several suicides in the group because people are just tormented, isolated, hounded, bullied. You name it, they do it."
Helen found her salvation in a close friend - not a church member - who recommended she seek psychiatric treatment.
"I have been out for nine years, but I would still say that I am in recovery."
Mr Lowe says the elders wore him down to breaking point.
"If you're subservient and doing what they want they build you up, but as soon as you start to express doubts you become a target and they put the boot in," he says.
"I just couldn't jump through their hoops anymore.
"Eventually I thought, blow it, I will lose my salvation, that's my problem. And I did leave.
"But I didn't want my family to lose their salvation, so I didn't try to get them out.
"Once I came out and people began to shun me, wouldn't talk to me, had nothing to do with me, wouldn't even come to my home."
Mr Lowe compares himself to a cancer patient, now in remission. He longs to see his children again.
"If I had known then, what I know now, I would have tried to get my children out. There is a chance I will see them again."
Rosanne Henry says education is key to the recovery process.
"The experience was extreme psychologically and emotionally and spiritually for most people [who leave religious cults] - ... and so they need to understand how that happened.
"Psycho-education about thought reform and mind control is critical because that was what was used on them in the group. They need understand what happened and why it happened.
"That was their world and they need to understand it so they can get rid of it."
She says, normalcy may never be attainable.
"But there's ways to get a good life back."
The Brisbane and Melbourne Christian Fellowships did not respond to requests from brisbanetimes.com.au to comment on the allegations made by Ms Pomery and Mr Lowe.
The woman who answered the phone at the church in Brisbane told us she was not authorised to comment.
"It's up to the men to decide. We can only pass on messages to them."
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ABC News - Australia March 19, 2010
Rudd still cold on Scientology probe
By online political correspondent Emma Rodgers
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is still cold on the idea of a Senate probe into the Church of Scientology, but has left the door open for possible support for another kind of inquiry.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has vowed to make a third push for a Senate inquiry into the Church after last year airing allegations made by ex-members of coerced abortions, criminal activity and abuse.
But both major parties will not support the inquiry, saying the Senate is not the right place to examine criminal allegations.
Mr Rudd has told Channel 7 he still has deep concerns about alleged mistreatment of members but is not convinced a Senate inquiry should go ahead.
"We've got to be very careful about using parliamentary forums to air potentially criminal charges or criminal allegations," he said.
"Let me take some further advice on the separation between general concerns about the Church of Scientology - many of which I deeply share - and on the other hand, allegations of criminality... which are properly left with law enforcement authorities.
"If that's capable of some separation, maybe."
Senator Xenophon has told ABC2 he thinks the Government's position is moving.
"I think that there is a shift in the mood and the language and I'll be working on that in the Parliamentary break," he said.
"Whether there are other options in terms of an independent inquiry, that could be a way forward.
"I still think the the best way forward is to have a Senate inquiry."
The Church has welcomed the news there will be no inquiry for now, saying anyone with allegations of criminal behaviour should go to the police.
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Australian Senator "won't abandon cult survivors", speakers at atheist convention urge gov't to adopt public benefit test for religious tax exemptions
Ex-cult members speak out over abuse
'CULT' RIPS FAMILY APART
Sunshine Coast woman calls for cult inquiry
'Cult' orders faith before family
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