Readers may remember a case, earlier this year, in which a petition presented to the Government regarding Scientology was rejected. That petition concerned reports that police forces in the UK had co-operated with the Church of Scientology, and in particular Narconon. The petition’s text itself referenced an article in the Times but did not specify any particular police force; the Times article itself referred to the London Metopolitan Police. Yet, the government’s response included a quote only from the City of London Police – the subject of neither the article nor the petition – and concluded with the rather dismissive comment that “You will see, therefore, that there are in fact no ‘links’ that need to be severed.” See this article for more info.
A second petition, also made through the online petition section at pm.gov.uk, stated the following:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Refuse any application submitted by the ‘Church’ of Scientology for recognition as a Religious Organisation.”
Details of Petition:
“Without compromise to freedom of thought or expression, the teachings and beliefs of Scientology, Dianetics and science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard must never be legally be accepted as a religion – regardless of any recent EU decision to the contrary. We consider the ‘Church’ of Scientology is an exclusive business venture that by prohibiting access to scientifically-proven psychiatric therapy and medicine is effectively enslaving its believers.”
The government’s response is as follows:
In our approach to religious groups, the Government must seek to balance its responsibility to protect vulnerable individuals with the UK’s long held commitment to freedom of worship and belief.
The Government does not consider that it would be feasible or appropriate to introduce specific legislation or regulation of religious groups, their activities or their beliefs. There would be considerable difficulty in drawing up legislation in a way that did not interfere with the individual’s right to choose their beliefs and lifestyles so long as they do no harm to others. There is also no obvious way in which legislation could deal with cases where adults participate in activities of religious organisations entirely voluntarily.
It should be noted, however, that the British government has already made a judgement in this regard – while not referenced in the petition itself, the Charities Commission’s 1999 report into whether or not the Church of Scientology should be considered a charitable organisation for tax purposes looked extensively into the issue of whether or not the CoS should be considered an organisation “established for the charitable purpose of the advancement of religion”. They decided against this, although the CoS was later able to get some tax exemption by being registered in South Australia, where it is considered a charity, and taking advantage of reciprocal tax agreements between the two countries.
This petition, then, was effectively asking the UK government to stick to its current position in spite of agreements in EU courts – a point entirely ignored in the response (although to be fair, also in the petition itself.)
Furthermore, the closing sentence – in particular, the phrase “as long as they do not harm others,” raised a few eyebrows around the Temple dinner table. Can’t help but wonder if Bonnie Woods or Paul Bracchi would agree that the Church of Scientology is as harmless as all that…