The Sydney Morning Herald, Wed 18 Oct 1978, p14

Govt curb put on exotic sect - we've seen it all before

Derided church now accepted


Restrictions imposed earlier this year on entry to Australia by foreign nationals belonging to the Ananda Marga sect recall various sanctions, a decade ago, involving Scientology.

In the 1960s, Scientology was derided and virtually outlawed. A government report labelled some of its practices as harmful.

Times change. The Church of Scientology - members insist that it is a church - has legal status in NSW; its ministers may legally officiate at weddings and perform other functions of a quasi-public nature.

On Saturday, the Church of Scientology will hold a human-rights conference at the grand ballroom, Sydney Hilton Hotel. The conference will attract delegates and speakers from Australia, New Zealand and England.

The delegates include Mr Ron Davies, Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia; Mr John McMillan, of the Freedom of Information Lobby; the Rev Ted Noffs, of the Wayside Chapel; and Mr Bill Orme, of the NSW Privacy Committee.

The purpose of the conference is to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and to focus attention on the alleged decline of human rights in this and other countries.

A prayer day will be held on Sunday. Its purpose is to help those present to "become aware of their relationship to their Creator and their fellows."

Scientology still has enemies. Orthodox churchmen accuse it of borrowing rites and formularies from the mainstream religious denominations. Medical man and governments dislike the sect's dabbling (notably in the process known as Auditing) in pseudo-psychiatry.

Others ridicule the sci-fi jargon - the movement's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, was a prominent science-fiction author - and suspect Scientology of being commercially motivated.

Most Scientology publications carry the statement, Copyright - L. Ron Hubbard. His name appears, under the title of Founder, on the movement's letterheads.

Nevertheless, Scientologists claim that Ron (as staff address him with a mixture of reverence and affection) no longer controls the movement.

His very whereabouts remain somewhat of a mystery. Indeed, the elusive Ron has become somewhat of an ecclesiastical Howard Hughes. Overseas press reports have located him, variously, at the American headquarters in Los Angeles, at a former manor house (now the main Scientology training centre) in East Grinstead, England, or cruising in his yacht, the Sea Org.

If the Sea Org were to berth in France there would be trouble. Earlier this year, Mr Hubbard (in absentia) and local leaders of the movement were found guilty of fraud by a Paris court.

One of several charges stated that "under cover of an organisation, presented as a church whose object is uniquely philosophical and religious, this organisation functions like a psychotherapeutic system which has organised and concealed a well-run and booming commercial enterprise."

Another charge involves "practising pseudo personality tests handled by unqualified staff."

A third charge accused the movement of exercising "intellectual and moral pressure on persons attracted by the hope of a better personal condition, of greater professional success, and of (achieving) happiness, and ... that the goal sought may only be attained by an initiation of a religious nature reinforced by courses, services, or books or documents distributed or sold, whereas the intrinsic value ... bears no relation with the size of the cost asked for."

An appeal against the conviction is pending. A statement by the Australian headquarters of Scientology describes the trial as a "charade ... even the Soviet Union has abolished this residue of the ancient inquisition."

In the United States, 11 leading officials and agents of the Church of Scientology have been charged following allegations of conspiracy to plant spies in US Government offices, and "bug" Government meetings.

The charges - which have echoes of Watergate - accuse sect members of planting agents in the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, and of maintaining a bureau with "responsibility for conduct of covert operations."

A statement by the Australian branch of the movement denies the charges. It accuses the FBI of operating "dirty tricks" against law-abiding citizens.

To the movement's credit, Mr Hubbard's book, Dianetics - The Modern Science of Mental Health, a standard reference work to Scientology, has sold more than a million copies in hardcover and paperback editions. It is sold in reputable bookshops and I have received letters and telephone calls from Herald readers who have found it helpful.

Another book by Mr Hubbard, Scientology - Twentieth Century Religion, contains tributes from non-Scientologists, including clergymen. The book says Scientology "is a religion in the oldest sense of the word, a study of wisdom ... a study of man as a spirit in his relationship to life and the physical universe."

Various books have been written, mainly by former members, purporting to expose the "evils" of Scientology. They include The Mind Benders, by Cyril Vosper (Mayflower Books), and Inside Scientology, by Robert Kaufman (Olympia Press).

A more favourable view of Scientology is contained in The Hidden Story of Scientology, by Omar V. Garrison (Arlington Books, London).

Modern exotic religions are not without their humorous side. An entertaining book, Cults of Unreason, by Dr Christopher Evans (Harrap), covers the whole gamut of modern religions including Scientology, flying-saucer cults and the various brands of Eastern mysticism.

[Press articles on Scientology]