[Note: typos preserved.]

The Age (Melbourne), Sat 18 Apr 1981, p3

Churchmen urge an end to bans on scientology


Officials of three churches have signed a petition calling on the State Government to lift bans on the Church of Scientology.

The petition asks the Government to "review the Victorian Psychological Practices Act and remove all prohibitive sections aimed at members of the Church of Scientology purely on religious grounds. It further asks "that in future no legislation be passed which discriminates against any minority because of its beliefs".

The petition concludes: "We are, we believe qualified to express opinion on this issue, however, even though we express this opinion we do not necessarily imply agreement with the tenets and practices of the Church of Scientology."

The Psychological Practices Act, passed in 1965, outlaws the teaching of Scientology and the use of a testing device known as the Emeter. Scientologists say that this equipment is an integral part of their religion. The Act came after a 159-day inquiry which found Scientology to be a serious moral and medical threat to the community. The Victorian bans have remained despite the Church of Scientology being recognised as a religious denomination by the Federal Government in 1973. In Australia the church has 5000 members.

The petition, titled 'In the interests of religious freedom', has been signed by the Baptist principal of Whitley College, the Reveren Mervyn Himbury; Jesuit sociologist Father Noel Ryan; Methodist sociologist Dr Robert Guthrie Roman Catholic Sociologist Dr Rowan Ireland and the superintendent of the Wesley Central Mission, the Reverend Arthur Preston.

Dr Guthrie said he had signed because he felt the Psychological Practices Act was "a work of great audacity which discriminated against a group which claimed to be a religion."

"Just imagine what would have happened if the Church of England had been singled out in this way. In America, a law which discriminates against a religion is unconstitutional," he said.

Mr Himbury said he had signed in the spirit of the Baptist tradition. "It is better to tolerate what we think is wrong rather than condemn things out of hand," he said.

Father Ryan said he took his lead from the Second Vatican Council felt that if a group claimed to be a religion, then that claim had to be taken seriously," he said.

The petition was put together four weeks ago and has been presented to Liberal MPs. Scientologists hope that it will affect the decision of a Health Commission working party which is reviewing the act.

The working party chairman, Dr Jack Evans, said yesterday that prohibitions on Scientology would not be removed as a result of the committee's work. Dr Evans said a review of the sections of the act covering Scientology was not within the terms of reference of the working party.

Among those who provided reports after being approached by Scientologists were the professor of philosophy at Deaking University, Dr Max Charlesworth, the director of the Melbourne University faculty of theology, Dr John Gaden, a professor of Old Testament studies at the Uniting Church Theological Hall, Dr R. Anderson, and the professor of legal studies at La Trobe University, Dr E. Braybrooke.

[Press articles on Scientology]