Minister ‘free to call Scientologists bastards’
The South Australian Government was at odds with the Church of Scientology last night after backing the right of a senior state minister to brand its members “bastards”.
Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith has also questioned the organisation’s tax-free status in comments to an anti-Scientology group called Anonymous, which it posted on popular internet site YouTube.
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While declaring Dr Lomax-Smith was entitled to her opinion, a spokeswoman for Premier Mike Rann distanced the Government from the remarks, saying they represented a private view.
The Church of Scientology, whose devotees include actor Tom Cruise and, reputedly, billionaire businessman James Packer, has complained to Mr Rann.
In a statement issued yesterday by its Sydney office, the church said Dr Lomax-Smith had a duty to refrain from making derogatory public comments that promoted intolerance.
Her criticism of the controversial church was captured on video during a demonstration by Anonymous outside the church’s Adelaide headquarters in May.
The footage shows an exchange between Dr Lomax-Smith and the masked anti-Scientology protesters in which she asks: “Are all of you related to someone who has been sucked in?”
In an apparent reference to the church, she says: “They should be taxed, the bastards. They shouldn’t be tax-free; we’re subsidising them. I like your masks.”
The High Court in 1983 upheld that Scientology was a religion and entitled to tax exemptions available to other churches.
Dr Lomax-Smith declined The Australian’s request for an interview yesterday, but issued a statement confirming she had spoken to the Anonymous protesters. “It was a private conversation and I was expressing a personal view,” she said in an email response. “There’s nothing more to add.”
Mr Rann’s spokeswoman agreed Dr Lomax-Smith had been speaking in a private capacity and had the right to do so.
The spokeswoman said the Government did not have a position or comment on the minister’s views on Scientology.
The video was taken from across the street and Dr Lomax-Smith did not appear to be aware she was being recorded.
A member of Anonymous, who would identify himself only as David, told The Australian yesterday there were cameras everywhere. “I dare say she would have known she was being videoed,” he said.
But the Church of Scientology believes the minister’s comments were out of line and said it was entitled to the same rights as other churches and religious organisations. It pointed out that Dr Lomax-Smith’s recorded remarks breach Labor Party rules on discrimination.
“Ms Lomax-Smith is an elected official and as such represents the voice and rights of many different races, cultures and creeds,” the church’s Australian division said.
“She has a duty to follow the policy of her party and refrain from making derogatory public comments that promote intolerance and violate the very basis of our democratic constitution.”