Nat Hentoff called this one to our attention, knowing that his first amendment concerns and our obsession with Scientology nuttiness had come together in a piece published yesterday by Washington Post columnist Jonathan Turley.
Turley points out that Westerners like to gasp at stories of civil rights abuses in places like the Middle East, where people can be put to death for insulting Islam.
But increasingly, he says, the West is passing its own laws that make it a crime to criticize religion.
The relevant example that Nat knew we’d find interesting:
British citizens can be arrested and prosecuted under the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which makes it a crime to “abuse” religion. In 2008, a 15-year-old boy was arrested for holding up a sign reading “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult” outside the organization’s London headquarters. Earlier this year, the British police issued a public warning that insulting Scientology would now be treated as a crime.
Turley goes on to make the point that it’s a mistake to punish free speech, etc, etc.
He neglects, however, to point out that what really galls about that British pronouncement is that Scientology only became a “church” when L. Ron Hubbard got tired of paying taxes on his Dianetics takings in 1954. Overnight, the “science” of dianetics became a “religion,” and counselors suddenly became “ministers.”
The US government didn’t buy the ruse, and refused to give Scientology tax-exempt status until the IRS, after years of legendary harassment, finally threw in the towel at the end of the first Bush presidency (becoming finalized in 1993, under Clinton).
It’s bad enough that even Scientology’s stooge of a spokesman, Tommy Davis, refuses to acknowledge publicly what the actual beliefs of his “church” are (those secrets are only for those who have spent the $100,000 or so required to be let in on Hubbard’s wacky space-alien origin story), but now it’s illegal in Britain to criticize a religion based on ridding your body of space parasites and that claims to grant believers control over space and time by reading the paranoid rantings of a 1930’s pulp fiction writer?
Is this really the same country that spawned the guys who made Meaning of Life?