OPINION: Battle Beyond the Stars

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As the Emmy Award winner was announced David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology, leapt from the couch in his luxury apartment, threw his half-empty whiskey glass at the wall and turned on a young staffer, screaming abuse in a fit of violent rage.

That's how I imagine his reaction based on first-hand accounts of how he handles bad news. This is Very Bad News.

Leah Remini’s Show Scientology: The Aftermath winning in Los Angeles at the weekend could well signal the beginning of the end for the Church of Scientology.

For years the sins of the ‘Celebrity Cult’ were tolerated, even ignored, by the establishment, in part, because several high-profile stars joined their ranks. John Travolta, Kirsty Alley and Tom Cruise were making studios millions of dollars and there was nothing to be gained by questioning their support for a group whispered to abuse people in terrible ways.

That has all changed.

Leah Remini’s Show Scientology: The Aftermath won at the Emmys at the weekend. Photo: Getty
Leah Remini’s Show Scientology: The Aftermath won at the Emmys at the weekend. Photo: Getty

In 2013, after 34 years in Scientology, Leah Remini left the group. The star of hit American sitcom “King of Queens” for nine seasons, she was the ‘biggest’ celebrity to walk.

Since the age of nine, Remini had become indoctrinated with the teachings of Scientology and publicly promoted and defended the group. She would later tell me she had no idea how violent the leader David Miscavige was and how much harm her group was doing.

Soon after leaving, Remini penned a best-selling book “Troublemaker”. Then she decided to do something to stop the rot. Her TV series ‘Scientology: The Aftermath’ features former high-raking Scientologists detailing the shocking truth about what was done to them and their families.

Scientology was founded by pulp science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. After dabbling in Black Magic and serving an unremarkable period in the navy, Hubbard decided to reinvent himself. He wrote Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health. It was an atomic age hit with readers, intrigued by the notion that the wonders of science could help humans achieve serenity.

From there, Hubbard realised “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”

L Ron Hubbard made it clear what he was doing, writing in 1954: ‘[Scientology] is neither a psychotherapy nor a religion."

Scientology was founded by pulp science fiction write L Ron Hubbard. Photo: Getty
Scientology was founded by pulp science fiction write L Ron Hubbard. Photo: Getty

Australia was the first country in the world to establish in law Scientology as a religion. After it was banned in Victoria and the group lost a payroll tax decision in the Supreme Court, Scientology appealed to the High Court which, in 1983, produced, in my opinion, an appalling about face.

The five learned judges found that they could not say what is or is not a religion; as long as people say they believe in a spiritual or supernatural thing and have the tenets outlining their beliefs no-one can say they are not a religion.

Chief Justice Lionel Murphy wrote “one-in, all-in… Any body which claims to be religious, whose beliefs or practices are a revival of, or resemble, earlier cults, is religious.”

Yet Scientology does not do anything to benefit the community. No aged care, meals on wheels, soup kitchens. They operate as a business, selling courses, books and services at a profit – none of which are peer-reviewed or medically proven.

Scientology is VERY creative at finding ways to gather income.

Take the Athena school in Newtown in NSW, which is about to become one of the highest federally-funded public schools, per student, in the state.

Mike Rinder, Leah Remini and Bryan Seymour in Los Angeles
Mike Rinder, Leah Remini and Bryan Seymour in Los Angeles

Under the Gonski 2.0 funding model, they’ll be getting as much as four times the funding per student than public schools just down the road (Thats according to the Australian Government's School Funding Estimator).

In addition, they use L Ron Hubbard’s teaching methods and pay a ‘licence fee’ of 4% of their profit to Applied Scholastics – one of many Scientology front groups.

That’s right… they’re taking Australian Government funding for education and giving it to the Church of Scientology.

Here is what we can do.

Firstly, we can introduce a Public Benefits Test like the one they have in the United Kingdom. This allows the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) to examine what services a group provides. If they do not perform any benefit to the community they are required to pay tax.

A shot from Episode 9 Scientology: The Aftermath
A shot from Episode 9 Scientology: The Aftermath

As a result of this test being implemented in the UK, Scientology lost its tax exempt status there.

Secondly, we can amend the Constitution to reframe the definition of a religion “To include exclusion clauses that prevent harmful, sinister and abusive organisations from attaining the social, legal and financial privileges which accompany the legal status of ‘religion” – as outlined in this incisive essay by Michael Sherlock.

Remini's Emmy win comes as Season Two of Scientology: The Aftermath airs in the United States. The focus this time is on crimes committed against and by current and former members, particularly sexual abuse.

She has committed to campaigning for justice until Scientology is shut down. Who among Scientology’s celebrity ranks will be the next to join her?

Bryan Seymour is a senior journalist for Seven News and has filed more stories on Scientology than any broadcast journalist in the world.

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