It is now well understood and accepted that freedom of speech does not include the freedom to malign others, because hate propaganda and vicious smears in public have a destructive effect on excitable individuals (witness the effect Nazi propaganda had on the Germans in the 1930s and 40s).
The recent publication of a book written by Louise Samways entitled 'Dangerous Persuaders: An expose of gurus, personal development courses and cults, and how they operate in Australia' and the ensuing publicity for this less than academic work is a classic example of the use of propaganda against minority religions and other groups. The whole attitude and content of this book is condemnatory and clearly followed a line of argument put forward by those who are aligned to religious hate groups and advocators of deprogramming (forcible changing of one's beliefs) such as the Cult Awareness Network and affiliated groups in Australia.
Samways attacks a broad spectrum of groups as varied as the Church of Scientology (fully recognised as a religion when the High Court of Australia in 1983 upheld its religious status), the Hare Krishna movement (a spiritual movement which has existed in Asia since before Christ) and the Amway direct-sales organisation (one of the largest marketing organisations in the world), to name just a few.
Also promoted by Samways in her book is the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a group which has been severely criticised by authorities in the United States. In fact over the past three years, no less than eight of CAN's principal members or close associates have been criminally charged, indicted or prosecuted on charges such as kidnapping and forcible detention as a result of their anti-religious activities. CAN's hired 'chief of security' is currently serving a 7-year prison term on kidnapping related charges.
This year NSW MLC Stephen Mutch is sponsoring a conference to be held at Parliament House, Sydney, in July, entitled 'Freedom of and Freedom in Religion' - human rights, cults and new religious movements which on the surface sounds like a good idea. That is until you read the list of speakers which reads like a who's who of those closely associated to CAN and other anti-religious groups.
History has taught us to beware of those who would label any religious groups a cult. It is traditionally the first step before wholesale persecution, and is always the statement of an unenlightened and uninformed individual.
Church of Scientology
Ph: (02) 267 6772
NOTE: This newspaper eschews the use of words like 'cult' and 'sect' because of their negative connotations. And we do not have direct evidence for or against the groups mentioned. We would like to ask any reader who has direct and person experience of such groups to let us have some details. It may not be a 'local' issue but it does seem to arouse strong feelings almost universally. (Ed.)