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Talk in support of an anti-Scientology motion

This is the text of the talk I gave at the 1996 AGM of the National Council for Civil Liberties ("Liberty"). It was 3pm on Saturday 27th April and I was speaking to propose a motion titled "Religious Cults; Scientology"
This was my first real experience of public speaking. I was really nervous.

"I am Martin Poulter, an individual member. I run an information service on Scientology through the Internet.

The first thing that I must make clear is that in discussing Scientology we are not referring to a set of religious beliefs or a way of life that someone might choose. We are concerned about an organisation; a regime.

The views of this regime on freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, homosexuality, race, appear diametrically opposed to those of an assembly like this. To explain how could take all day, but just to illustrate what we are up against I would very briefly like to quote from an interrogation document: a "confessional session" to which those in the scientology elite are often subjected.

These things are regarded by Scientology as crimes for which someone can be punished.

Scientology might not seem to be an issue on everybody's lips- you don't hear a lot of people speaking out about it. There is a reason for this. To illustrate I quote from the organisation's active policy:

This policy is depressingly effective. There are some reporters who have guts, but we have found that there are some newspapers that will not report on Scientology. I know personally of one news agency which will not do stories on Scientology, despite there being events to report, because they know what will happen to them if they do.

The other thing that I must make clear is why we use the word "regulate". I can understand why people balk at this and I understand the motivation behind the tabled amendment. "Regulate" is not our choice of word. It comes from the recommendations of the Foster Report of 1971. Foster's concern was with the enforcement of minimal professional ethics and with the prevention of exploitation and abuse. The legislation we want is consumer protection legislation, not regulation of the industry. The hard sell techniques learnt by Scientologists are harder than those learnt by timeshare salespeople, yet potential recruits to Scientology do not have even minimal protections, such as a mandatory cooling-off period. (Bear in mind that the people who seek out a psychotherapy are typically more emotionally vulnerable than a typical purchaser of timeshare.) Legislation to put this right is simply common sense, and is so far held back only by political inertia.

Scientology's campaign against its opponents is now moving onto the Internet. In the last fifteen months, it has raided four critics' homes, filing and threatening numerous lawsuits (I can provide references on request). Three people in this room have been threatened with legal action by Scientology in the past year, purely for what they did in the course of discussing and criticising the Scientology beliefs.

My information service will soon have to be taken off the Internet, not because of any lack of interest but because I know that the libel law in this country is such that a poor individual has very little chance in court against a wealthy and litigous organisation, whatever the merits of the case. This is another area in which NCCL can help. In fact, NCCL has already helped with a similar case and we are very grateful for that.

Please support this motion and show your commitment to this particular civil liberties issue.

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