Do Not Let This Legacy Be Tarnished Through Ignorance or Malice

The Australia High Court’s decision in a Scientology case in 1983 was a turning point for freedom of religion or belief, setting the standard not only in Australia, but throughout the world.

In a video on the Scientology Religious Freedom website, noted barrister Dr. David Bennet, Queen’s Counsel and former Solicitor General of Australia describes this accomplishment in these terms: “I have now had almost fifty years as a barrister, and I can tell you that in those fifty years, there is no case of which I am more proud than the case I ran for your church in 1983.

“Prior to 1983 the legal definition of religion in Australia was very limited. Although it was not immediately apparent, one of the basic freedoms, freedom of religious belief, was at stake. We thus won a great victory not only for Scientology, but also for the religious freedom of all religions.

“The Australian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but it’s not much use having freedom of religion unless you define what constitutes a religion, and that’s the true significance of the Scientology case.”

Lacking a definition, neither Australia nor any other country could protect this right from whim, arbitrary ideas and preconceptions. And this pertains particularly for new religions and those that are not part of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions.

In a speech delivered to thousands gathered in Chatswood district of Sydney for the dedication of the Scientology Advanced Organization for Australia, New Zealand, Oceania and Asia, Dr. Bennet described how he overcame this obstacle. His argument before the High Court on behalf of Scientology covered three primary concepts:

1. That a religion’s beliefs must encompass ‘ultimate’ ideas, such as life and death, man’s role in the universe and a proper moral code of right and wrong.
2. That the group must lay claim to an ultimate and comprehensive truth.
3. That it should have some of the traditional accoutrements of religion such as religious services, ceremonial functions, and an ecclesiastical hierarchy and its physical base.

“This argument in the end led the High Court to remove many of the restrictions affecting the meaning of religion,” said Dr. Bennet. “And all those years ago, the High Court judges recognized that Scientology was a religion, one of the judges describing that proposition as ‘irresistible.’”

An Englishman himself, Dr. Bennet is proud of having set a precedent in Australia that was followed 30 years later in a unanimous decision in December 2013 by the UK Supreme Court. The Court overturned a 1970 Court of Appeal decision, which Bennet describes as “a very rare example of the UK following an Australian case in preference to its own.”

Lord Toulson, writing for the Court, described the previous ruling against Scientology as “illogical, discriminatory and unjust.” The other four Supreme Court justices, led by the president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, all agreed.

Of course, there are some who will fight progress and inclusion. Such a one is Ben Schneiders who has tried to make less of this decision and its importance. His articles are the antithesis of “investigative reporting.” They are lazy, full of inconsistencies, twist “facts” and rely on ridiculous sources — one a pathetic deadbeat whose assault of his ex-wife has left her in chronic pain, the other a thoroughly discredited former journalist fired from his last job almost a decade ago. This latter subsisted for years on the profits of the world’s largest online sex trafficking website (before its seizure by U.S. federal law enforcement agencies in April 2018.)

Australia should be proud of its heritage as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and inclusive society — one in which nearly 30 percent of its population was born overseas. It is little wonder that such a culture would embrace the freedom of thought and religion and would value new ideas. It’s no wonder that Scientology has been welcomed and its value appreciated in this land.

Linda Wieland

Linda Wieland

Featured Contributor Linda Wieland works in public affairs for the Church of Scientology International.