26 Nov 2010

Australian parliament refuses to investigate abusive Scientology cult, no "public benefit test" for religious tax exemptions

Sydney Morning Herald - March 12, 2010

Call for inquiry voted down


NICK XENOPHON'S appeal for a parliamentary inquiry into Scientology collapsed into acrimony yesterday, amid claims it represented an attack on organised religion.

Both the government and opposition voted against holding the inquiry, moved by the South Australian independent, which would have examined the value of giving religious institutions tax exemptions.

The Liberal senator Cory Bernardi turned his ire on the Greens, who supported the inquiry. Senator Bernardi said the Greens were interested in a witch-hunt on organised faith, comparing their hostility to the shadowy religious group the Exclusive Brethren with the Nazi practice of forcing Jews to wear the Star of David.

''This is the organisation, remember, that wanted the members of the Exclusive Brethren Christian organisation to mark their businesses so people would know who they were,'' Senator Bernardi said.

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, demanded he withdraw the remark.

''I will withdraw the inference that the Star of David was the symbol that the Greens wanted to put on every Exclusive Brethren business,'' Senator Bernardi said.

''Make no mistake that the Greens wanted to ensure that people of a particular religious persuasion were going to be marked in their businesses,'' he said.

After airing allegations of coerced abortion, torture and financial heavying in the Senate last year, Senator Xenophon broadened the terms of reference for his proposed inquiry from a direct examination of Scientology to a general examination of the tax status of religious or charitable groups.

The inquiry would have questioned whether the tax exemptions of religious groups should be subject to a public benefit test.

But the Special Minister of State, Joe Ludwig, said while the terms were general, Senator Xenophon made it clear it would be aimed squarely at Scientology.

''It is not the role of the Parliament to inquire into the tax status of a particular organisation or individual, or to investigate criminal matters,'' Senator Ludwig said.

He said the issues were covered in a Productivity Commission examination of the contribution of the non-profit sector, and in the Henry Tax Review.

The Tasmanian Liberal, Eric Abetz, also spoke against the motion.

Senator Xenophon, who said he had been contacted by hundreds of former Scientologists since speaking against the religion last year, said he would move another motion calling for an inquiry next week.

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ABC News - Australia March 12, 2010

Senator to speak at Brisbane anti-cult conference

Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon will address a conference in Brisbane which claims to be the first specifically organised to help people who have left cults.

Senator Xenophon has been campaigning for an inquiry into the Church of Scientology and its tax exempt status.

In a speech in Parliament late last year he raised allegations of false imprisonment, coerced abortions and embezzlement of church funds, of physical violence and intimidation, blackmail and the widespread and deliberate abuse of information.

The Cult Information and Family Support Group Queensland's two-day conference starts in Brisbane today.

It will hear from American experts, and Senator Nick Xenophon will speak at the conference tomorrow.

The support group's spokeswoman Helen Pomery says former members of cults tend to suffer in silence.

"There are far more than we know about here in Australia," she said.

"Although we know that cults exist and we perhaps hear about a lot of the extreme ones from America they're certainly here in our midst in Australia."

She says workshops at the conference will allow them to connect with each other.

"Many of these people have never had any treatment before," Ms Pomery said.

"They've gone away, they've resumed their lives, they've shelved a lot of the issues, and this is the first time they really have a chance to start to process the pain that they've suppressed within themselves."

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ABC Online - Australia March 10, 2010

Scientology 'putting lives at risk'

By Sabra Lane

Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry has thrown his weight behind calls for a Senate inquiry into the Church of Scientology, saying the church's teachings are putting Australians' lives at risk.

Professor McGorry, a world-renowned youth mental health expert, and two other respected Australian psychiatrists are supporting independent Senator Nick Xenophon's efforts to set up an investigation into the church's activities and its teachings on psychiatric care.

Professor McGorry says it is time to put the Church of Scientology under the federal parliamentary microscope.

"It's a bit like they're the deniers of the reality of mental illness, which is not only incredibly irresponsible and dangerous, but something that has to be challenged," he said.

Professor McGorry says he has been motivated by his long-time advocacy of early intervention for mental health problems.

The Church of Scientology has strong views about psychiatric medicine, and Professor McGorry says those teachings should be examined in a public forum such as a Senate inquiry.

"I'm concerned that any restriction or any discouragement of access to mental health care will cost lives and result in unnecessary disability for people," Professor McGorry said.

Professor Ian Hickie, the executive director of the Brain and Mind Institute in Sydney, also supports a Senate inquiry, as does Professor Louise Newman, the president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

"I've certainly come into contact with people with mental illness who have sought help or assistance from the Church of Scientology, and from many other organisations," Professor Newman said.

"In their contact with the Church of Scientology they've been discouraged from having appropriate treatment.

"Some have been encouraged to cease taking psychiatric medication even when those might be indicated, and there has certainly been no attempt to actually get people in any reasonable form of alternate therapy.

"This is not a trivial issue and I think for far too long, these sort of extremist views have hidden behind a group which describes itself as being an organised religion."

Professor McGorry says he and his two colleagues are just the tip of a very deep iceberg.

"The whole mental health field would support this call for an inquiry and it's overdue in fact, in my opinion," he said.

Professor McGorry met Senator Nick Xenophon yesterday.
Forced abortion claims

In Parliament last year Senator Xenophon raised serious allegations of abuse, blackmail and forced abortions within the church.

The church claimed he had abused parliamentary privilege, but the Senator has pushed for an inquiry.

The Greens support the push but as yet it does not have enough support from either the Government or Opposition Senators, who will be voting on it by the end of next week.

"I was heartened by the Prime Minister's statement last year that he was concerned about these allegations," Senator Xenophon said.

"The logical conclusion of the concerns expressed by the Prime Minister is for the Labor Party to support this inquiry.

"These are concerns that need to be dealt with in a transparent and robust manner.

"The way to do that is a Senate inquiry. The Church of Scientology can be represented at that inquiry, they can give their submissions, but it would be an open and transparent process.

"What has the Church of Scientology to fear by having an open and transparent inquiry?"

Senator Xenophon would not say if he was obsessed with this issue.

"I've got an obligation to the victims of Scientology, who have come forward with very serious allegations, to see this through," he said.

"To do anything else would be abandoning those victims. To do anything else would be walking away from a very important issue.

"So I guess my message to my colleagues and to the community at large is that if it's an important issue in the public interest, I can be a completely stubborn bastard."

But a spokesman for the Church of Scientology, Cyrus Brooks, says pushing for an inquiry is the wrong way for the professors and Senator Xenophon to go.

"They're getting into the field of religion and they better stay in the field of mental health," he said.

"It's not the role of the Parliament and there are already frameworks in place for people who have made complaints.

"Many dissenters have said that and, I think, that's a true statement."

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Catholic Online - March 9, 2010

Scientology Again on the Docket in the Court of Public Opinion

By Randy Sly | Catholic Online

We are seeing an increase in the numbers of those who have chosen to speak out after leaving the organization.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) – In the past few days the Church of Scientology has been given the spotlight in three major media venues – an article in the New York Times by the noted religion writer Laurie Goodstein, a television special by investigative journalist Quentin McDermott for the program 4 Corners of ABC Australia, and piece by Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show.

Just three weeks ago the internet was buzzing with news of a new initiative from the organization. CoS had hired three prize-winning journalists to investigate the St. Petersburg Times, a newspaper that had been investigating them for over 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage in 1980.

Some have posited that they were trying to intimidate the media. Instead, they may have inserted themselves even more prominently in the court of public opinion.

On February 21, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, wrote about this investigation in his column, Media Notes, saying "After decades of digging into the Church of Scientology, reporters and editors at the St. Petersburg Times are accustomed to being denounced by its leaders.

But they find it unsettling that three veteran journalists -- a Pulitzer Prize winner, a former "60 Minutes" producer, and the former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors -- are taking the church's money to examine the paper's conduct.

The three, Steve Weinberg, former executive with the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., Russell Carollo, a 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner for the Dayton Daily News, and Christopher Szechenyi, an Emmy-winning former television producer with 60 Minutes.

The 20 page study, which has been delivered to the Church of Scientology, was written by Carollo and Szechenyi, and then edited by Weinberg. According to initial statements from CoS spokesman Tommy Davis, the study would not be made public.

This past weekend it wasn´t the St. Petersburg Times but the New York Times that wrote about the group.

On Sunday, Laurie Goodstein´s article, "Defectors Say Church of Scientology Hides Abuse," was published. As with most coverage on the subject, Goodstein´s piece highlighted statements by several ex-members concerning abuse issues within Scientology. These were denied by Davis, who stated that the defectors were apostates and that the church actually grew more since they had left.

Goodstein also provided readers with an overview of Scientology teaching as well as a description of some of their facilities.

By noon on Sunday, this article had become so popular that one ranking service reported that it was the eighth most popular page on the World Wide Web. To show how significant this is, two of the pages that ranked slightly higher were from Siber Systems, a company that had just released a new version of Roboform, which prompted every current user of the software to go to the page for an update.

On Monday, 4 Corners, a current affairs program from ABC Australia, broadcast "Scientology: The Ex-Files." Again, following the lives of Church of Scientology "defectors", investigative reporter Quentin McDermott, explored the issue of abuses within the organization. The program included historical footage of L. Ron Hubbard talking about his work, interviews and responses from Tommy Davis.

On the 4 Corners website, they offer the program as well as extended versions of the interview with Davis and two of the ex-members, Liz Anderson and Hanna Eltringham Whitfield, who was an early member of Sea Org and a captain on two of their ships.

The Times article and the Australian television program both challenge the public to question whether there is credibility to the charges levied on the organization by these ex-members.

These two pieces have helped underscore that we are seeing an increase in the numbers of those who have chosen to speak out after leaving the organization.

On Tuesday, NBC's Today Show featured an interview by Matt Lauer with Christie King Collbran, a member of Sea Org that renounced the organization. The story also included some background on Scientology and a clip from Laurie Goodstein, author of Sunday's Times article. As with some who leave Scientology, Collbran maintains that she embraces the teachings but could not stay involved due to the abuses she experienced.

Last June, the St. Petersburg Times published a three-part series on Scientology that brought increased attention on life within Scientology - particularly with the Sea Organization - in addition to their beliefs.

By the fall of 2009 more books regarding Scientology had been published including "My Billion Year Contract" by Nancy Many, "Blown for Good" by Marc Headley and a second book by Maria Pia Gardini.

In October of 2009, Paul Haggis, an academy award winning writer-producer-director, declared his defection from the group.

Also in October, Martin Bashir provided an in-depth story on the Church of Scientology for ABC's Nightline over two nights. He looked into the declarations of violence and abuse by ex-members, which included allegations that Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, struck members of his staff. Bashir also investigated the group's secrecy as well as the way it attracts celebrities.

Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis denied all allegations brought up by ex-members. Bashir's interview became a YouTube phenomenon, as Davis walked off the set over questions regarding the group's beliefs about Xenu, an intergalactic leader who brought people to Earth 75 million years ago and placed in a volcano.

In January, 2010 mixed reports of the impact of the Church of Scientology during the Haiti earthquake disaster added a lot of contrasting information for public consumption. Some reports praised the work of the Volunteer Ministers while others portrayed a very different picture.

Then, on February 12, six ex-scientologists held a press conference in Los Angeles that brought new regional attention to these abuse issues as formers members described life inside Scientology. CoS spokesman Tommy Davis categorically denied all of their allegations.

Regarding our coverage of the event, Davis told Catholic Online, "To forward on a Catholic site the vicious and false allegations of disgruntled ex-members of any religion is the epitome of hypocrisy. No constructive purpose is served whatsoever, and you are in fact promoting religious hatred and violence. Your entire article is so un-Christian, it boggles the mind!"

Whatever happens with the accusations and law suits currently pending in the justice systems of several nations, the court of public opinion has been offered additional testimony. As Fr. John Coleman wrote in his article, "Scientology at the Dock," "I suspect with so much smoke, somewhere there must be a real fire."

A strong verdict in the court of public opinion may actually bring about further investigation. If only a small portion of the reported allegations are true, this is still a very serious situation.

Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church in 2006. His reporting on the Church of Scientology has received global attention as the group´s activities come under increasing scrutiny.

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