MOVEMENT BIDS FOR PLACE IN EDUCATION CURRICULUM
Hamstead & Highgate Express, Nov. 22, 2002
By Carmen Lichi
Scientologists want children in Camden schools to be taught their beliefs as part of the new curriculum.
And the controversial group, which counts Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its supporters, also wants pupils to learn about the teachings of the Moonies and Pagans during religious education (RE) lessons when the new school curriculum is introduced in 2003.
The movement, founded in the 1950s by late American eccentric L Ron Hubbard, has never had formal religious status in the UK.
But members of the Camden branch, based in Tottenham Court Road for 35 years, believe Scientology, along with other smaller groups, should be given the same exposure as Catholicism and Protestantism at GCSE and A-Level.
Camden’s standing advisory council for religious education (SACRE), which includes Church of England representatives, headteachers, councillors and school governors, is now set to consider the request, after two members of the Camden branch presented the council with a book on the movement on Tuesday.
Scientologist Paul Dolan, who was at the meeting, said: “We are asking SACRE to think of introducing other religious communities into the new school curriculum for religious education.
“It is really to extend religious tolerance of groups such as ourselves, the Unification church (the Moonies) the Unitarians, the Quakers and the Paganists.
“Some of these groups that have come about in the last 50 years aren’t as represented as they perhaps should be.”
The committee agreed to seek expert advice on the issue from leading experts on cults before reaching its decision. If it accepts the request, representatives from the Church of Scientology will be appointed to SACRE and allowed to visit schools and talk about the group.
But some SACRE members expressed concern that the move could encourage groups looking for “a platform”. Councillor Julian Fullbrook, former chairman of SACRE, said: “I would be worried about the number of movements that might want to use SACRE as a platform.”
SACRE committee member Councillor Mike Greene, a father of two who is also governor at New End Primary School, said: “I feel it’s important my child should learn about other religions. I value the cultural diversity that it brings to children.”
He said it was also very important that beliefs were not showcased for recruitment purposes.
The request has prompted serious concern by anti-cult groups.
Ian Haworth, of the Cult Information Centre, said the move was “potentially hazardous”. He added: “If Scientology is considered a religion in the school curriculum, it will be the first to have a criminal record.
“The main concerns are not so much their beliefs, but the methods they employ to recruit new members. By introducing their beliefs, students would be missing the main point, and this could give them a false sense of security about the organisations in any relationships they might have with those groups.”
But a spokesman for the Church of Scientology, whose headquarters are in East Grinstead, said: “With reports of religious discrimination still appearing in the media and elsewhere, we believe that schoolchildren should learn basic beliefs of all religions, as discrimination is very often fuelled by ignorance.”