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High Court urged not to inquire into Scientology • Thursday March 13, 2003

Irish Times, Mar. 12, 2003

The High Court has been urged not to engage in a “wholly impermissible type of religious discrimination” by permitting an inquiry into the truth or falsity of the Church of Scientology‘s religious claims.

For the court to admit evidence from a psychologist which was critical of the practice of auditing – described as the core and single most important way in which Scientologists profess and practise their religious belief – would be akin to conducting a judicial inquiry into the legitimacy of the Sacrament of the Mass in Roman Catholicism, it was argued. This was impermissible under the constitutional guarantee of the free profession and practise of religion.

In submissions on behalf of the church, it was argued Scientology had been recognised as a religion by many governments worldwide, and must be treated the same as any other religion here.

There could not be a judicial inquiry into whether the Catholic Church was liable if a member of that church claimed to have suffered some emotional or psychological damage as a consequence of the sacraments of Benediction and Confession, it was argued.

Mr Michael Collins SC, for the church, was objecting to the court hearing evidence from a psychologist, whom it sought to call on behalf of Ms Mary Johnston in her continuing action for damages.

Ms Johnston (40) 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, alleging conspiracy, misrepresentation, breach of constitutional rights and negligence.

On the 27th day of the hearing yesterday, Mr Collins presented Mr Justice Peart with lengthy submissions outlining his side’s opposition to hearing evidence from the psychologist.

Mr Collins said Ms Johnston was seeking to adduce evidence which would presumably be primarily directed to the effects of auditing and whether it involved some form of hypnosis and the consequences of auditing for Ms Johnston. He argued such evidence was impermissible and unconstitutional.

Mr Michael Cush SC, for Ms Johnston, argued he was entitled to call the psychologist. He referred to a previous ruling by Mr Justice Peart in relation to such evidence and said Mr Collins was not entitled to reargue the point and “blur” the issue. It was for the judge to decide whether Scientology was a religion and the judge might conclude it was entirely misguided.

Mr Cush said it was Ms Johnston’s case that Scientology was a pseudo-religious cult.

Counsel said the psychologist would, among other things, outline to the court what hypnosis is and his view whether Ms Johnston was hypnotised.

Mr Justice Peart will hear further submissions today on whether the evidence is admissible.

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