A division of the controversial Church of Scientology appeared at the Alternative Careers fair at the weekend. Operators of the stall, hosted by The Citizens Commission on Human Rights, told students that psychiatrists were responsible for genocide in the Balkans. They offered no career advice at the fair, which included representatives from the public, charity and campaigning sectors. Several students were “deeply offended” by the operators’ remarks.
The Commission was established by the Church of Scientology, for “investigating and exposing... criminal acts within the psychiatric industry.” Scientologists believe that mental illness is a “hoax” perpetuated by the pharmaceutical industry, that the government invents mental illnesses and that psychiatric medication is designed to kill millions of people.
One student said, “They told me that the recent genocide in Eastern Europe was due to psychiatrists and that mental illnesses are invented by the government for some evil reason. I was deeply offended by many of these claims. “I think that their presence there was completely inappropriate.” Harriet Williams, a second-year English student from St Hilda’s who visited the stall, was also offended.
She asked, “How did they get in? It’s ridiculous, they shouldn’t be trying to manipulate students who are just trying to find a career.” Sophie Corlett, the policy director of mental health charity MIND, told The Oxford Student, “I find the remarks the Commission made deeply concerning. “To the one in four people who will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives, it is a very real and distressing issue.
One student who attended the fair said, “It wasn’t remotely obvious at first what the organisation was about. I saw the words ‘human rights’ and that’s what interested me.” “The woman I spoke to just ranted on about all the scandals the Commission had discovered and offered me lots of leaflets and literature about their work.” The Citizens Commission on Human Rights was not formally invited to the careers fair.
Two days before the event, the Commission put in a telephone request to set up a stall at the fair. The Careers fair organisers agreed because they were under the impression the Commission was a human rights charity that would give students career advice.
The Director of the University Careers Service said, We are very careful to ensure that our students are not made to feel uncomfortable or antagonised by any of the exhibitors. “If any student is offended by talking to an organisation then I am very sorry. We are impartial, and students should be afforded access to a wide range of organisations.” Other organisations that were present included Oxfam, Liberty and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, all of which offered careers guidance.
Brian Daniels, UK Spokesperson for Citizen’s Commission for Human Rights, defended the Commission’s presence at the fair. He said, “CCHR carries out volunteer work. The leaflet about the Alternative Careers fair said that the purpose of the fair is to find out more about what the organisations present do. We fit that criteria. We offered lots of literature and spoke to students.
Scientologists have a history of recruiting susceptible individuals, such as alcoholics and drug addicts, through counselling and the offer of help. According to its founder L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology aims to create “a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology.
The nature and legal status of the Church has sparked international controversy. Scientologists were banned from entering Britain between 1968 and 1980. In recent years, an application by Scientology for charitable status was rejected after the authorities decided its activities were not of general public benefit.