The Age (Melbourne), Thu 06 May 1982, p5
The Victorian Government will go ahead with plans to lift bans on Scientology despite a ruling yesterday by the State Full Court that the Scientology organisations could not claim to be a religion.
The Minister for Health, Mr Roper, said that the court's ruling would have no impact whatsoever on the State Government decision to amend the Psychological Practices Act which has outlawed the Church of Scientology since 1975. He hopes to have the amendment passed by the end of the year.
Scientologists yesterday discussed the possibility of taking their case to the High Court. A spokesman likened them to early Christians, spurned for centuries as an illegal group who finally established a State religion in Rome.
Mr oper announced last month that the Government intended to amend the Psychological Practices Act - "a nonsense law brought in in a fit of panic in the 1960s" - because its provisions were discriminatory the Scientology organisation was singled out, and the activities of its members made illegal, while other minority groups were allowed to express their views.
While the State Government was concerned simply with changing an act which discriminated against a particular group, Scientologists, calling themselves the Church of the New Faith, had gone to the courts to seek recognition as a religion.
The Full State Court yesterday dismissed an appeal by the organisation against a ruling by Mr Justice Crockett in December 1980 that its claims to be a religion were a sham, and that some of its services were grotesque, a mockery of religion.
Under the Payroll Tax Act, religious institiutions are not liable to payroll tax. The organisation had appealed to Mr Justice Crockett against a decision by the Commissioner for Payroll Tax not to grant the Scientology organisation an exemption.
"There is so much that is obscure, ambiguous or incomprehensible in the ideas of Scientology," the Chief Justice, Sir John Young said, addressing himself to whether Scientology was a religion, the principal question on which the appeal hinged.
"Nothing I have read seems to me to tend to raise the ideas of Scientology to a religious level. It is clear from evidence that forms and ceremonies resembling those of established religions have been superimposed upon the set of ideas originally propounded by Mr L. Ron Hubbard (the organisation's founder), and it is difficult to resist the conclusion that they have been superimposed for the purpose of obtaining whatever advantage may be obtained by designation as a religion."
He said Mr Justice Crockett's conclusions that Scientology was bogus and a mockery of religion may well be right and there was some basis for them in evidence. He referred to one of the books in evidence, 'Scientology. The fundamentals of thought'. "There is much in the book that is extravagant and much that might thought to be highly dangerous in the hands of the gullible," he said.
"I do not think that there has been in Victoria such public acceptance of Scientology as a religion as requires the court to treat it as such.
"Not very much weight can be given to the fact that Scientology has attained substantial recognition elsewhere, for example in the United States of America."
The Psychological Practices Act outlaws the teaching of Scientology and the use of a testing device known as the E-meter. 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 Church of Scientology, although banned under the State Act, has been free to practise in Australia since a 1973 change in Federal law. Ministers of Scientology have been registered under the Commonwealth Marriage Act as ministers of religion of a recognised denomination.
Several leading officials from churches in Melbourne last year sign a petition urging the State Government to lift its ban. They said that while they did not necessarily agree with the practices and tenets of the Church of Scientology, they argued that it discriminated against a minority because of its beliefs.
A spokesman for Victoria's 5000 Scientologists, Mr Andrew Youngman, said: "I thought the decision was predictable, although I was slightly disappointed. While the court has made its decision, the Government will continue to lift its restrictions. So, in some ways the court's decision is irrelevant."