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Charity Bid 'Cult' In TV Campaign

The Guardian, September 18, 1996


LENGTH: 1200 words

BYLINE: Madeleine Bunting Religious Affairs Editor

THE Church of Scientology is making a push for respectability with its first application to the Charity Commission and its first television advertising campaign.

The one-minute advert, showing people from different ethnic groups saying the word trust, is to be screened several times a day in the next four weeks on the satellite channels UK Gold and UK Living.

The campaign, launched yesterday, is costing the Church of Scientology International pounds 70,000, and is aimed at recruiting new members. It follows the lifting in April of an Independent Television Commission ban on the church's TV advertising, imposed in 1993 following complaints.

The application for charitable status, lodged in the last couple of weeks, has been kept a close secret and follows three years of consultation with the Charity Commission. If the application is accepted, the church would be eligible for the tax advantages of charitable status, and would be recognised as a religion under English charity law - two of its major goals.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said yesterday: "The Scientologists have made their first formal application for registration as a religious charity.

"Based on earlier informal submissions, we felt they did not qualify as a religion under English law, which lays down that there must be a God or gods. But we will look at the new submission."

If the commission rejects the application, the Scientologists could take their case to court in the same way as Buddhists - who do not believe in God - did to establish themselves as a religion.

In this country, to reduce the tax burden on its charitable and educational activities, the church now operates under an organisation registered as a charity in Australia. The church, which claims 100,000 British members and 8 million worldwide, is anxious to be recognised as a religion and to leave behind the allegations of cult behaviour which have dogged it with controversy.

The Rev Heber Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International, who is in Britain to launch the campaign, said: "This is a very interesting moment. We have an opportunity to use television to talk about ways of resolving world problems. The advert is very simple and is designed to uplift society."

The message of the advert was to help build communication bridges between nations and different ethnic groups.

The advert has featured in a $ 250,000 ( pounds 170,000) campaign in the United States, where it prompted significantly increased interest in scientology, he claimed.

Mr Jentzsch denied that the advert could exploit the vulnerable, and said people could make up their own minds. He also rejected allegations of brainwashing as having been proved to have no substance.

"People are intelligent enough to look at what they see and make their own choices.

"My advice is that if you are brainwashed in just 60 seconds of an advert, then wash your brain," he said.

After the initial pilot on satellite, the advert may be extended to show on terrestrial channels in the next three months, Mr Jentzscher said. The campaign is the church's first in Europe, where it is banned from advertising in some countries such as Germany, whose major political parties and churches have taken a very hostile line.

Scientology: what it is

Scientologists believe that through study of founder L. Ron Hubbard's writings, and counselling, they can realise their full spiritual potential.

They believe all humans are innately good but physical or emotional pain conditions the mind to respond according to pre-determined patterns.

Spiritual progression is achieved through intensive study courses of which there are more than 100, costing from pounds 30 to pounds 15,000. They say the courses lead to Scientologists being happier and more successful.

They do not believe in a god, but in reincarnation.

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