RELIGION in all its forms sparks intense debate but none more so in recent times perhaps than the Church of Scientology.
A relatively young religion created by science fiction author Lafayette Ron Hubbard, Scientology's profile has risen sharply with the support of such high-profile acting identities as John Travolta and Juliette Lewis.
Yet while most people would have an opinion on the church's ideology, there rarely seems to be much open debate about it in the social arena.
That changes next week when the French documentary Is Scientology Above The Law? airs on SBS Television.
Produced by Envoye Special, the film examines the relationship between the church and the law in France, Germany and the United States.
While basic facts are hard to find, the documentary does present an abundance of circumstantial evidence that appears to point to the underhanded working of the Church of Scientology.
If you've been looking for information to underline your distrust of the religion, you'll find plenty of it here.
If you really want to know about the inner workings of the church, keep looking.
This program focuses primarily on the French trials involving Scientology. In one, Hubbard was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison and fined for fraud. He never served his sentence.
Another case, more frightening in its allegations, was initiated by the wife of a former Scientologist who killed himself after allegedly being pressured to run up debts to pay for a purification ritual.
The widow sued the church for manslaughter, attempted fraud and the illegal practice of medicine.
But in all the trials mentioned in the film, none go smoothly.
Files disappear, people in custody are mysteriously released, complaints are lodged against judges and the system is increasingly manipulated.
From pumping up the mystery to allegations of brainwashing, Scientology does not fare well in this documentary.
Is it an established religion or just a well-heeled cult?
Scientologists, former church members, lawyers and politicians all take part but the surprising thing is that, in the end, it seems you can't really trust what anyone says.
Is Scientology Above the Law? is a French-language film with English narration and subtitles.
It screens on SBS Television on Tuesday, May 9 at 8.30pm.
- DENISE EVERTON
[photo] John Travolta ... one of the Church of Scientology's more wellknown adherents.