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Free will a crucial issue in case against Scientology, court is told • Friday March 7, 2003

Irish Times, Mar. 7, 2003

A fundamental issue in the legal action by a woman against the Church of Scientology is whether her free will was overborne or compromised in her decision to take up certain courses run by the church, the High Court heard yesterday.

If the court finds Ms Mary Johnston’s free will was affected, it must then decide whether that has any legal consequences entitling her to damages, Mr Michael Collins, for the church said.

The fundamental point was whether Ms Johnston’s free will was compromised to an extent that was unacceptable in law, counsel added.

His side would be arguing free will is a concept that cannot be measured.

He was clarifying his case after Mr Michael Cush SC, for Ms Johnston, queried the direction of Mr Collins’s cross-examination of Prof Stephen Kent, a Canadian-based sociologist who has written critically about the Church of Scientology and who has given evidence on behalf of Ms Johnston.

Mr Cush had expressed concern that Mr Collins seemed about to embark on a philosophical discussion when, Mr Cush said, Prof Kent was not a philosopher and was not addressing the free will concept in that context.

Yesterday was the 25th day of the action by Ms Johnston (40), who operates a sports equipment centre at Westwood, Foxrock, Dublin, and is a former member of the church. She has sued the church and three members of its Dublin mission – Mr John Keane, Mr Tom Cunningham and Mr Gerard Ryan – for alleged conspiracy, misrepresentation and breach of constitutional rights.

Yesterday, Prof Kent said he had referred to free will in the context of a sociological definition and not in the context of a philosophical discussion.

He agreed that man has a reasoning power that is unique.

Mr Collins suggested that if a person exercises that power free of direction by anyone else, that is an exercise of free will, irrespective of how complete their information is.

Prof Kent said sociologists and psychologists had identified the importance of deception as mitigating a person’s ability to make a decision.

The hearing continues today.

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