Woodridge State High School seminar brought to you by Scientology

News.com, Australia/February 21, 2013

High school students completed a seminar without being informed it was sponsored by the Church of Scientology.

At least 60 junior students at Woodridge State High School, south of Brisbane, participated in a class on December 10 about human rights featuring materials from the group, Youth For Human Rights.

Staff and students were not told the group is sponsored by the Church of Scientology.

The seminar did not include teachings from Scientology, although it did include a quote by Scientology founder, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard.

Teachers and ethics experts have now called for greater disclosure about background information from groups coming into school grounds.

Kevin Bates, president of the Queensland Teachers' Federation, said the lack of disclosure was concerning. "The key issue is that [their links] were unbeknown to the school," Mr Bates said.

He said the school, which has a high refugee population and often works with NGOs, should have learned an important lesson on background checking organisations.

Ethicist Dr Simon Longstaff said all organisations, whether they're religious or commercial, should disclose their backgrounds when coming into schools.

"Any organisation thinking to make a presentation within a school environment should be transparent about who they are," Dr Longstaff said, adding it was essential for staff and students to make informed decisions to consent.

Sei Broadhurst, a Church of Scientology spokeswoman, said in a statement it believed religious groups should disclose their identity before school visits.

"Youth for Human Rights however is not a religious group. Its only purpose is to promote the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is non-religious," she said.

The Church describe Youth For Human Rights as a "separate and secular organisation" but said the Church provides funds for its materials.

Youth For Human Rights "does not promote Scientology at all", Ms Broadhurst said, adding that the L. Ron Hubbard quote in study materials only promoted human rights.

"The Church of Scientology does not conduct school visits and only does presentations of Scientology teachings in our own churches and these are always for our own members," Ms Broadhurst said.

The Church's support for Youth For Human Rights was clearly disclosed on its main website, she said.

Previously: A day in the life of a Scientologist

Kalisi Bese, the volunteer who ran the seminar, told news.com.au it did not matter who supported the seminar given the huge need for human rights education in the community.

"When I deliver the package it's more on what human rights is all about, not who is financially endorsed by who or what not," Ms Bese told news.com.au. "It's a tool that's really needed."

Ms Bese said she was a Christian, not a Scientologist, and Scientology only sponsored Youth For Human Rights. She said she had given similar presentations to schools and staff in Sydney.

Not the first time

In 2009, then NSW Education Minister Verity Firth directed schools not to use Youth For Human Rights brochures and DVDs, after it was revealed they had been sent to "most schools in Australia".

"It's just a marketing exercise for Scientology," Ms Firth said at the time.

Ms Broadhurst denied the materials were not banned in NSW. They have not been submitted for approval for use by the NSW Education Department as they have their own materials.

A prominent critic of the religion, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, said the Church of Scientology had a lot of nerve promoting human rights.

"The cruel irony of this Scientology-backed group spruiking human rights is so many ex-Scientologists have told me how their human rights were abused while in Scientology," he said.

Ms Broadhurst said none of Mr Xenophon's allegations, made under parliamentary privilege, had been substantiated. The Church had been exonerated by the Australian Federal Police, she said.

"The fact that no media outlet has called Senator Xenophon to task over his disgraceful abuse of parliamentary privilege is frankly a disgrace," Ms Broadhurst told news.com.au.

She said the Church places a "very high importance" on promoting human rights in a world "where there is too much prejudice, hate and violence".

Scientology, which is a religion under Commonwealth law, has launched an Australian media offensive this year.

Reporters and celebrities - including former rugby league star Matthew Johns - were invited behind the scenes of Scientology's Australian churches.

News.com.au was the first Australian news organisation to receive access.

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