A human rights youth forum at Parliament House in Sydney promoted the views of the Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and was organised by a group linked to the Church of Scientology.
In a kit given to students, Hubbard's photograph was more prominent than those of the human rights activists Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Thomas Jefferson. Hubbard's quotes were littered through the material.
The Church of Scientology is the major sponsor of Youth for Human Rights Australia, the group that organised the youth seminar on March 20 in the NSW Parliament Theatrette.
Three students from Canterbury Girls High School were in the audience. Each felt concerned at overt references to Scientology.
Alice Craven, 17, the school captain at Canterbury Girls, said she felt exploited because the forum's link to the Church of Scientology was not disclosed in promotional material sent to teachers and students.
"I feel exploited and taken advantage of and am worried other people at the event may have taken it as a serious human rights forum, when it was pushing a Scientology agenda," she said. "Alarm bells began to ring when I noticed a large poster on the stage … emblazoned with a quote from L. Ron Hubbard."
She said students were asked to sign a human rights pledge and given application forms to join the organisation at cost of $10.
The Department of Education is looking into the students' complaints.
The Liberal MP and powerbroker David Clarke, a member of the Catholic group Opus Dei, addressed the forum and secured the venue for the organisers. Mr Clarke said he was happy to support the human rights cause and had been unaware of any strong links between the youth forum and the Church of Scientology.
"I'm a practising Catholic," he said. "There was no pushing as far as I could see of Scientology."
A spokesman for Youth for Human Rights, Nigel Mannock, said he was a Scientologist but the youth forum had promoted human rights, not Scientology.
"If there was a photograph of L. Ron Hubbard on the material it was because of what he said about human rights," Mr Mannock said.
"We do get support from the Church of Scientology, among other people, and a number of people who happen to be Scientologists are in it.
"It is not a Scientology organisation. We think L. Ron Hubbard was a good supporter of human rights."
A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said it was disappointed that the "full nature" of the youth forum was not disclosed to students.