Scientology, Human Rights and Apologist Academics

marburg2003 | Scientology and the European Human Rights Debate: A Reply to Leisa Goodman, J. Gordon Melton, and the European Rehabilitation Project Force Study |Stephen A Kent | Marburg Journal of Religion Volume 8, No. 1 (September 2003)

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The link above leads to an academic paper by Stephen A Kent, who is a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta in Canada.  He has extensively studied Scientology, and a number of other ‘high control’ groups.  The Church of Scientology has mounted a number of extra-legal operations against Kent, with the apparent object of damaging his reputation in order to undermine the credibility of these findings.

Kent accused Scientology of human rights abuses in an earlier paper, Brainwashing in Scientology’s Rehabilitation Project Force (which should be read first, as this paper defends the conclusions he came to there).

Kent addresses attacks from a small group of academics, and the “independent scholar” J Gordon Melton. Their view of the regime of forced labour,  sleep deprivation, and restricted diet imposed upon members of the ‘Rehabilitation Project Force’ (RPF) is that it is an example or religious devotion no different that that expected from a monastic order, and they have attacked Kent on this basis.

Critics characterise the views of the academics who criticise Kent as ‘apologist’ – that is, they  go to great lengths to interpret well established practices of the Church of  Scientology which clearly break the law and violate human rights as examples of religious practice. For example:

  • RPF forced labour camps
  • The practice of disconnection
  • The conditions of servitude endured by members of the ‘Sea Org’

At best, this perspective is naive. Some consider that the Church itself is encouraging those who hold such views in order to undermine the findings of people like Kent. If so, this is an usefulness tactic as Kent clearly holds the superior arguments and evidence.

Kent vigorously defends his assessment of the RPF, and also  presents Scientology’s take-over of the Cult Awareness Network as another example of Scientology’s intolerance to perceived threats to its coveted  status as a ‘religion’.