Sociology professor's evidence admitted in Scientology case

Irish Times/January 22, 2003

The Church of Scientology has a deep-rooted objection to conducting a debate in court on the merits of religious practices, the High Court was told yesterday.

Mr Michael Collins SC, for the church, objected to the hearing of evidence from a Canadian professor of sociology on the grounds that admitting such evidence could lead to the 11-day case, taken by a woman against his client, continuing until the end of February.

Ms Mary Johnston (40), a former member of the church, is seeking damages for alleged conspiracy, misrepresentation and breach of constitutional rights against the Church of Scientology Mission of Dublin and three of its members, Mr John Keane, Mr Tom Cunningham and Mr Gerard Ryan.

After almost two hours of legal argument, Mr Justice Peart decided he would hear evidence from Prof Stephen Alan Kent.

Earlier, Mr Collins said many religious practices had the potential for stress but the court could not go into those even if they did cause stress.

Mr Collins said he understood that the plaintiff's side intended to call about four or five expert witnesses, a total of about 10 witnesses yet to be called on behalf of Ms Johnston. This could mean the case would last several weeks and would not finish until the end of February. He would then be compelled to call upon witnesses to give counter evidence, Mr Collins said.

Responding to Mr Justice Peart on whether he was obliged to accept that scientology was a religion, Mr Collins said the church believed every human being had a soul and an immortal existence. The court was told there were 2,000 churches in 110 countries.

In evidence, Prof Kent said he had studied new religions and cults and had written extensively on the subject. He had interviewed about 50 former scientologists. He described the structure and organisation of scientology as very complicated with "international management" at the top. Ireland and Britain had one joint body while the Dublin Mission would be described as being at the lowest level of the church.

Asked by Mr Michael Cush SC, for Ms Johnston, if there was a general body of complaints about the church's dianetics auditing policy, Prof Kent said there was and he was also aware of individual testimony about its harmful effects.

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