Why Scientology Cannot Hide Behind Religious Freedom
Dear Calvary Family,
I believe in religious liberty. In many ways religious liberty is the ultimate American value. It is embedded in our 1st Amendment and is one of the most treasured principles of human liberty. How, who, or if I worship is none of the government’s concern. Those who are Christians believe God Himself gives religious liberty and that true worship can neither be constrained nor commanded by government and no government should try to do either.
Such broad freedoms have allowed for many groups to flourish in America. Cults, new religions, and strange beliefs have grown and enjoyed the same protections as other historically established traditions and therein lies both the beauty and messiness of liberty.
But all liberties must be defined and liberties have limits. In fact, without definitions and limits, liberties will struggle to exist. What are the limits of religious liberty and in what ways can it be abused? That is a huge question when you live in Clearwater, Florida.
In Clearwater, the Church of Scientology (COS) has a long established and controversial presence. The COS has been the subject of many books, movies, documentaries, and testimonies that have highlighted disturbing practices. Among the repeated accusations is that the COS attacks its critics with ferocity with the intent personally destroy them and publically silence them. While all of us tend to be defensive when criticized, most established and responsible groups process the criticism, correct the misconceptions, and offer an alternative view when warranted. When true abuses surface, most responsible institutions accept responsibility, offer apologies and try to correct problems. Not so with the COS.
The COS has long held a policy that encourages attacking the critics in order to silence them. Everything is considered “fair game.” This policy goes back directly to the controversial founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. When attacking the critic personally doesn’t seem to work, the COS then cloaks itself in the mantle of religious liberty and attacks its critics as enemies of freedom and bigots who oppose religious liberty.
I love and defend religious liberty for all. However, as an advocate of religious liberty I strongly oppose how the COS uses that precious freedom to guard their secrecy, evade responsibility and continue a tyranny of abuse.
Religious liberty is a sacred right that should apply to all, even those whose beliefs are considered strange, but like all liberties there are necessary and logical limits. As an advocate of religious liberty I wish to mention two.
First, religious liberty does not guarantee you immunity from criticism. Whenever the COS is criticized, they attack the critic as an enemy of religious freedom. But the same 1st Amendment that protects one person’s right to believe and practice their religious faith, protects another’s freedom of conscience to dissent, as well as their freedom to voice that dissent. I can at once, defend someone’s right to believe and practice their faith, but critique that faith in ways that I believe are legitimate. In fact, my religious rights give me the freedom to do so and my religious convictions demand, at least in this case, that I do so. The critic is not an enemy of religious freedom; they are an example of it.
As crazy and nonsensical as many of the beliefs of Scientologists seem to me, I defend their right to hold those beliefs, but I also will practice my rights to say why I think those beliefs and practices are wrong.
Secondly, religious liberty does not give you a license to engage to abusive human rights violations and illegal behavior. Religious liberty does not grant you the right to harm, harass, abuse, and deprive others. Even if that weren’t illegal, it is still wrong. And when or if it is illegal, then religious liberty is no defense. Your rights don’t give you the liberty to violate someone else’s.
Legitimate and serious questions are being raised about the practices of the COS. Do they or do they not pressure under age children to sign billion year contracts? Do they or do they not violate child labor laws? Do they or do they not confine people against their will? Do they or do they not pull children out of school and fail to adequately educate them? Do they or do they not cover-up physical abuse and assault? Do they or do they not surveil people, plant false evidence, spread lies, destroy private property, and more?
The government should reflexively lean to protecting religious liberties. History has shown how tyrants use power, majorities, and force to oppress ideas they considered dangerous. Liberty must indeed be protected. However, such protections should not keep governing officials and law enforcement agencies from doing their jobs, enforcing the law, and protecting the equally legitimate rights of other citizens. It is reasonable to view the COS with a skeptical eye and for federal and local authorities to consider credible complaints that warrant investigations into the behavior of this very dangerous organization.
Religious liberty should be defended, but critics must be allowed to speak, laws must be followed, and the rights of others protected. The COS hides behind the cloak of religion and seeks the protection of religious liberties. They should be afforded the protections that any citizens and any religious organizations are due, but no more. Religious liberty should protect your God-given freedom of conscience, but not protect your schemes to abuse and harm others.