Scientology Demands the Right to Employ Slaves in Australia While Getting Puff Pieces in DC, Florida

Still waiting to hear from you, Tom: your church is arguing on your behalf for slave wages for Sea Org members, man. Nice naval hat, though.
Still waiting to hear from you, Tom: your church is arguing on your behalf for slave wages for Sea Org members, man. Nice naval hat, though.

On Thursdays, Scientologists race to get their weekly stats in, so we like to do the same by totaling up how the church fared internationally in the past seven days. This week, in particular, we saw a wild divergence in the way Scientology got treated by the press, and so we're going to share that with you in this Thursday Stats Roundup.

We're starting in Australia, where we reported last year that the country's Fair Work Ombudsman has been looking into the way Scientology works people incredibly long hours for almost no pay. That investigation ended up in the church's favor, as the Ombudsman found that several former church members complaining about how they were treated had either been out of Scientology too long, or had volunteered their time.

But now, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney has reported, a local representative for the church sent the Fair Work review a letter telling the government to keep its mitts off of Scientology's holy (and wholly unpaid) laborers.

The Telegraph reported that local public affairs director Mary Anderson had submitted the letter, in which she said forcing a non-profit organization to pay normal wages was a "violation of human rights."

Telegraph reporter Joe Hildebrand found someone who didn't like that notion...

[Australian Council of Trade Unions] secretary Jeff Lawrence said the submission read more like exploitation than religion. "The Scientologists' submission reads like they have been putting their heads together with Australia's employer groups, who would like nothing more than to remove workers' basic rights and conditions in their lust for profits," he said.

When Hildebrand contacted Anderson, she told him that the letter was only her own view, and not the church's -- even though she had sent it out on church letterhead and it was signed "Reverend Mary Anderson, Director of Public Affairs, Church of Scientology."

And the funny thing is, Hildebrand notes that almost immediately after the letter was noticed, it "disappeared from public view." (Anderson told him she had nothing to do with the letter vanishing.)

Fortunately, the eagle-eyed researchers over at Operation Clambake managed to snag a copy of Anderson's letter before it disappeared. And here it is! Read the Church of Scientology's bold claim for why it should be able to pay very little, if anything at all, to its workers, who toil up to 100 hours a week at menial labor...

Church of Scientology 231-251 Mt. Alexander Rd. Ascot Vale Vic 3032.

Submission to: Fair Work Act Review Fair Work Australia Level 4, 11 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, 3000

February 15, 2012

Dear Sirs,

As a stakeholder, I would like to submit the following to the review panel:

The Fair Work Act serves a valid purpose in regard to commercial and industrial organisations; but it was never intended to cover churches and other purely volunteer organisations. Australians are entitled to volunteer their time for causes of their own choice.

There is nothing wrong with the concept: "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work" but it is misdirected when applied to religious volunteers whose focus is not on pay but on service to a spiritual cause. Historically, members of religious orders have taken a vow of poverty, embracing a life of service and eschewing financial reward At the present time, there are church volunteers who are not vowed to poverty; but who do volunteer their time and effort to church work, without focus on financial reward.

To force churches to pay these volunteers wages similar to those of commercial organisations is to treat organisations which are quite different as if they were the same. Non profit organisations are not in a position to pay award wages, and the demand that they do so is nothing less than a demand that will force the religious organisations to close. This is a violation of human rights. A review of the Fair Work Act is needed so that it does not continue to be misapplied in regard to religions.

Yours faithfully

Reverend Mary Anderson

Director of Public Affairs Church of Scientology 231-251 Mt. Alexander Rd. Ascot Vale Vic 3032.

"Religious volunteers...on service to a spiritual cause"? Yeah, like when those $40-a-week, 100-hour-a-week Sea Org members tricked out Tom Cruise's bike, RV, and airplane hangar. Surely there was some holy reason for that, right?

Thursday's Stats, Upstat or Downstat? The really unfortunate timing for the church is that just last week, Australians were outraged by the news of a child labor camp Scientology has been running right in suburban Sydney. In Bryan Seymour's shocking story, Shane Kelsey says he signed a billion-year contract with the Sea Org at only 8 years of age, and then was working 35 hours a week for about 35 cents an hour. Anderson's tone-deaf letter will only add fuel to that fire. Big downstat for the church Down Under.

Story #2: In Washington DC, a Safe Haven

There's been so much bummer news for the church lately. The Debbie Cook lawsuit happening in San Antonio, the big expose series "The Money Machine" from the Tampa Bay Times, frightening stories of abuse from journalists Steve Cannane and Bryan Seymour in Australia, and Scientology recently affirmed not as a religion but as a fraudulent business in France, not to mention some interesting things happening right here at Runnin' Scared.

Well, thank goodness the church can find a friendly face at the Washington Examiner.

Imagine how relieved DC church president Susan Taylor must have been when the toughest question she got in a recent interview at the Examiner was this one...

Scientology has fierce critics. Why do you think it draws such opposition?

Well gosh, what's all the fuss about, anyway?

Here's a question that has puzzled me for some time, and I'm honestly looking for a genuine answer from our amazing commenting community. Why is it that conservative news organizations in this country find it so difficult to look critically at Scientology and its well documented abuses?

Conservative newspapers in Australia and the UK don't suffer from the same problem (see the conservative Daily Telegraph, owned by Rupert Murdoch, above, for a salient example). Seriously, can someone explain this to me?

Here at our underground bunker, we've operated on the idea that readers from all parts of the political spectrum can all agree that Scientology Watching is a fascinating enterprise. The fault lines here tend to be along the in/indy/ex/anon axes, rather than liberal/conservative, and I've always thought that was one of the best things about reporting on the church. It surprises me that conservative news organizations -- at least here in the U.S. -- don't see that as well. Maybe I'm missing something.

Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? Well, this was a minor upstat for the church. But judging from the comments at the Examiner's story, Taylor wasn't really getting away with this puff piece with readers.

Story #3: Have a Cigar, It's More Good News!

More good publicity for the church this week came in the form of a lovely look at Scientology's new Ideal Org in Tampa, built in a former cigar factory.

This one's even more anodyne than the Examiner interview. "The church bought the building last year for $7 million and poured in $6 million in renovations - refurbishing but still preserving much of its old roots," the story happily notes, and I couldn't help thinking of what Luis Garcia divulged about how Ideal Org money was raised for a similar building in Orange County, California. But nary a cross word appears in this story about the Tampa rehab. This is a swell edifice and the local historian is beside herself.

I guess it would further our thesis if this puffball was also lofted by a conservative news organization. But that would just be too neat, wouldn't it?

Alas, it was irrupted by the local Fox affiliate. Should have known.

Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? Another minor upstat that is marred by the commenters, who aren't going for it. Sheesh, can't Scientology get any good press without the watchdogs showing up?

Story #4: The Paris of Switzerland

The Swiss weekly L'Illustré has a piece about Valeska Paris, who was originally from Geneva before her father moved her to the UK. Today, she lives in Australia, and she became famous on three continents last year when she revealed that she'd been held against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology's private cruise ship, the Freewinds.

Here's an excerpt from a translation we found at

The children were boarded in the Cadet Organisation, where education consists chiefly of scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets. According to Scientology, every human being has lived thousands of lives over the centuries; a person's spirit, called a "thetan", is imbued with that experience. A child is thus a synthesis of multiple prior existences. Scientology is not for people who don't take such things seriously.

Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? Valeska's story just keeps going and going. She continues to come off well in these pieces, and Scientology continues to look scary. A solid downstat.

Story #5: It's a Shame About Ray, the website for the San Antonio Express-News, follows up its excellent coverage of the Debbie Cook injunction hearing with a piece about Cook's attorney, Ray Jeffrey. As we noted earlier, Jeffrey spent a couple of years as mayor of the town of Bulverde, and this new piece plays that up a bit.

But the part that drew our attention was this line...

Along with international and U.S. news media knocking at his door as well as following the trial in San Antonio, Jeffrey said private investigators have swarmed around his office in the Village of Bulverde conducting surveillance.

Sigh. One thing we didn't mention earlier, when we were in San Antonio for the hearing, was that some top officials in Scientology's intelligence wing, the Office of Special Affairs, were spotted at San Antonio's airport on their way home to Florida. The hearing had turned out to be a huge embarrassment for the church, and a rare capitulation for its legal wing.

In Ray Jeffrey, the church had met its match. It's almost too predictable that the church would subject Jeffrey to the same old private eye routine of surveillance and intimidation, even after waving the white flag in court. Predictable maybe, but smart? It's a head-shaker.

Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? We'll follow up with Jeffrey soon about the level of surveillance he's noticed. For now, this is a minor downstat for the church. But it could reach Squirrel Busters-like levels of fail if the OSA shenanigans continue.

Story #6: The Perils of Paulien

Scientology Demands the Right to Employ Slaves in Australia While Getting Puff Pieces in DC, Florida

Our sister paper in Orange County, OC Weekly, picks up on the Paulien Lombard story and goes long with it. Paulien was once known as one of the most gung-ho booksellers in the local org, and became such a trusted longtime member, she was asked to spy for the church. She later admitted to her spying in a rather spectacular way -- by speaking up at a board of supervisors meeting. Now out of the church, she says she's the one being spied on.

Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? Paulien is one of the more interesting former members to come out in the past year -- and the way she came clean reeks of integrity. A big downstat for the church.

STATurday: Well, a mixed week for the church. But a couple of puff pieces really didn't outweigh all the bad news that seems to keep coming at Scientology in waves.

And it won't be ending soon. There's more and more coming, from several continents. March looks like it will come in like a lion, all right.

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


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