Scientology is 'a bona fide religion'


The US Internal Revenue Service determined 10 years ago that the Church of Scientology was a bona fide religion, operating various institutions exclusively for recognised religious purposes, the High Court was told yesterday.

The assertion was made in a signed declaration by Mr William Charles Walsh, an attorney in Washington DC, who said he has represented the church in many legal matters since 1978.

The declaration was read at the resumption of an action for damages taken by Ms Mary Johnston (40), who operates a sports equipment shop at Westwood, Foxrock, Dublin, against the church and three members of its Dublin Mission, Mr John Keane, Mr Tom Cunningham and Mr Gerard Ryan. Ms Johnston is seeking damages for alleged conspiracy, misrepresentation and breach of constitutional rights.

At the outset of the 23rd day of the hearing yesterday, Mr Michael Collins SC, for the church, told Mr Justice Peart his clients had concerns about the judge having previously told the court that, while searching the Internet, he had come across certain material on Scientology. However, on legal advice, his clients had decided not to make an application to stop the case and were happy for it to proceed.

The judge has stressed he retains an open mind on the case and had not read in any detail the material referred to. He also said there was no question that he had read anything that had had the slightest effect on how he had received evidence in the case.

Mr Collins said his clients wished to have the declaration by Mr Walsh read to the court. The declaration referred to a petition concerning the estate of the founder of Scientology, the late L. Ron Hubbard, which was filed in a California Probate Court by a US attorney, Mr Graham Berry.

In his declaration, Mr Walsh said the petition was improperly grounded in law and in fact and was summarily dismissed at the first hearing.

He said the petition raised "identifical false allegations" - that church leaders engaged in illegal conduct and that the church lacks corporate and ecclesiastical integrity - to those raised by "other disaffected Scientologists" in proceedings to determine whether the church was entitled to tax exemption in the US.

In October 1993, the IRS had determined the Churches of Scientology were non-profit organisations entitled to tax-exemption, Mr Walsh said. He added he himself was involved in those proceedings on behalf of the church and the IRS had conducted what it described as "the most extensive and detailed exemption examination in its history".

Mr John Hennessy, for Ms Johnston, said he was not accepting the document was admissible unless the court determined it was. While he had reservations and was not accepting the content of the declaration, he was not objecting to it being read because of his client's concern that the case advance speedily. Counsel said the document was not relevant to the issues in the case.

Later yesterday, Mr Collins resumed his cross-examination of Prof Stephen Alan Kent, who had given evidence for Ms Johnston earlier in the case.

Prof Kent said it was his view that when she joined Scientology, Ms Johnston was pressured to do so. He had tried to avoid using the term coercive persuasion because Ms Johnston was not in the context of a group for much of the time. He would say she was actively recruited. He believed she was subject to a form of coercive persuasion which eventually led to her free will being overborne.

He rejected suggestions that the theory of coercive persuasion related to joining cults had been discredited. He accepted Ms Johnston was a very intelligent person and that she read a lot of relevant material. He added that when she asked to see an article critical of Scientology, she was told she'd have to do further courses at more cost before she could do so.