18
Scientology Down Under

Adam Possamai and Alphia Possamai-Inesedy


Introduction

Australia is a country that has seen its religious groups being diversified over the years; as part of this growing diversity, many new religious movements (NRMs) have found a niche (e.g., Bouma, 1998; Hume, 2000; Ireland et al., 2000; Possamai, 2003; Possamai and Lee, 2004). However, several legal battles have surrounded the case of, for example, the Church of Scientology (Kohn, 1996), the Children of God, or the Family (Kohn, 1996; Sheen, 1996), and Ananda Marga (Richardson, 1996). Some “cults” have also been mistreated and/or misrepresented in the media. Richardson (1996) examined Australian media and new religions and concluded that Australian media relates to NRMs the way American journalists did a decade or so ago. In 1996, Australian journalists appeared to know little objective information about NRMs and as a consequence represented them negatively.1 These negative sentiments, needless to say, create a sense of fear toward new forms of religion.2

Although the believers of these groups are legally protected, their protection in Australia is not of the same high level as the American model (Richardson, 2004). The Australian Constitution includes Clause 116, which protects religion: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.” Unfortunately, Clause 116 does not apply to the Australian states; nevertheless, it does prevent federal laws that violate religious freedom. Of the six Australian states, Tasmania is the only one with a guarantee of religious freedom

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