The blowback over Indiana governor Pence’s signing into law ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ has gone viral. Prominent citizens, politicians and human rights groups are aghast as the act’s potential for instituting discrimination against those who don’t toe the line to fundamentalist Christian sexual orientation standards. In defense of signing the act into law Indiana’s governor Pence has said it was based on the 1993 federal ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act.’ See New York Times for more on the Act.
What perhaps few know is that one of the most energetic proponents of the federal act that serves as Indiana’s model was none other than the church of Scientology. Scientology crows about its achievement on its own website:
“In 1991, Scientologists supported passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law on November 16, 1993. The Church of Scientology International was an active member of the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, a broad-based religious and civil liberties group that strenuously worked for passage of the act.” Scientology website
Scientology was so involved in its passage that its president was invited to the White House for the President Clinton’s signing of the original federal act. (President Heber C. Jentzsch crowed about it on Larry King Live)
What scientology doesn’t tout is that it shamelessly exploited the Act even before its final enactment. As it was wending its way through Congress, which scientology was directly and indirectly lobbying, scientology was using its imminent passage as leverage in obtaining tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.
Scientology has used the federal Act for more than two decades to not only discriminate against the LGBT community, but also to immunize itself against charges ranging from human trafficking, to wrongful death, to fraud.
Scientology cited to the act in successfully dismissing criminal charges against it in the case of Lisa McPherson, a 36-year old woman who died in scientology’s custody on its premises. St Petersburg Times
Recently scientology successfully argued for dismissal of a high profile lawsuit for fraud brought by former members in Tampa Florida, citing to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Underground Bunker
Coincidentally, the highly publicized documentary ‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief’ premieres this Sunday on HBO. Its director and producer have both been quoted far and wide of late questioning how scientology gets away with the abuses they chronicle in the film (including its tax exempt status). They need only examine more closely the current media fire emanating in Indiana to find a considerable part of the answer. Folks concerned with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act who look deeper might find that it potentially carries far more grave consequences than currently meet the eye.