Off-Beat Church Sets Out Its Stall

The Western Gazette (UK)/June 19, 2003

A Top politician has criticised the methods a religious sect is using to spread its message, saying shoppers are being unfairly harassed. This week, the Western Gazette was contacted by a number of people who had encountered the Dianetics Centre roadshow in Yeovil last Friday.

The centre is linked to the so-called Church of Scientology, founded by American L. Ron Hubbard after World War Two.

Shoppers said they felt uncomfortable at the way they were persuaded to follow representatives into the centre's temporary base at Woods Wine Bar in Middle Street and given a pamphlet offering a "free personality test".

This included questions such as:

  • Do you often "sit and think" about death, sickness, pain and sorrow?;
  • Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?; and
  • Do you ponder over your inferiority?

Anne Davis, aged 22, of Yeovil said: "This girl just stopped me in the street and started asking me some questions.

"They started off quite general but when she asked me to follow her to the basement below Woods wine bar it got a bit creepy.

"By this stage I was starting to have my doubts and when she sat me in a chair and told me to look through a book I started to get a bit worried.

"The simple fact is her perseverance started to unnerve me. I felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car.

"The questions got more and more personal and she started asking me about past relationships.

"I don't necessarily have a problem with people's belief in Scientology but I don't like having it shoved down my throat."

South Somerset District Council chairman Tony Fife said he was uneasy, too.

He said: "I am concerned about this religion and I would not like to see them encouraged in Yeovil. There are enough established religions in the town. I think it is totally outrageous that they are persuading shoppers to go into this basement with them.

"The district council and the Yeovil Town Centre partnership have put a lot of work in encouraging people to shop in Yeovil and these types of people just drive them away."

The Western Gazette has carried previous articles concerning Scientologist activity in Yeovil and religious leaders' anxiety about them.

At the time Rev David Keen of St James and St Andrew's Church, Yeovil, said the group's questionnaire was "not an innocent document".

"The questions are designed to make people feel bad about themselves, and so become attracted to the products Scientology offers," he said.

The Dianetics Centre's local representative Simon Harrison, 34, of Yeovil said he was sorry if people had felt unnerved. It carried out these kinds of book-selling sessions every Friday and nobody complained.

The centre did not hassle people in the way that other charities working the town centre crowds did, he said.

Mr Harrison said: "We ask people a few questions and if they will do a survey. If they say yes, we ask them to come in and ask about the book. I am not a salesman, I do not get paid."

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