Cult to launch TV ad blitz on UK

The controversial Church of Scientology, which wants to be made a charity, is using celebrities to promote itself in a landmark campaign

Ian Burrell@iburrell
Saturday 10 July 1999 23:02

THE CHURCH of Scientology is mounting Britain's first national television advertising campaign promoting a religion. Hollywood actors and one of the US's best-known rap artists have arrived in London this weekend as part of a drive to establish the church, often described as a cult, as a recognised religion in the UK.

Scientologists are swamping the media with advertisements, including 240 messages daily on the electronic screen in Piccadilly Circus, London, five television commercials a day on Sky News, and posters throughout the London Underground network.

A spokesman for the church said that the campaign would initially be restricted to Sky but ads might also be considered for Channel 4 and ITV. A spokeswoman for Channel 4 said there was no reason for it not to carry the ad and that it was discussing the possibility with the church.

The Independent Television Commission, which regulates television advertising, said the advertisements would be monitored closely to ensure they did not denigrate other faiths.

Scientology, founded by the late L Ron Hubbard, a science-fiction writer, and once described by a High Court judge as "corrupt, sinister and dangerous", is generally regarded with suspicion by the British authorities and is officially banned in jails by the Prison Service.

But the church, which has been in the UK for 45 years, is lobbying hard with the Charities Commission for status as a religious charity, one of the key recognition points in Britain for new or alternative religions.

France, Italy and Venezuela are among countries which have recently recognised Scientology, whose adherents include the film stars John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. However, the German government has placed the organisation under security-service surveillance, saying it is not a religion but a business.

The rapper Doug E Fresh and the actor Jason Beghe, who starred in the films GI Jane and Thelma and Louise, are among the Scientologists being used to promote a month-long What is Scientology? exhibition which opened this weekend at Selfridge Hotel in central London.

The development is regarded by some as worrying. Ian Howarth of the Cult Information Centre said: "Scientology is a group about which I am deeply concerned. I have worked in this field for 20 years and the concerns I had two decades ago I still have today."

In Britain, the church's status is as a charity registered in South Australia. Its public affairs director here, Graeme Smith, said: "We would like to be recognised by the Charities Commission as a proper religion.

"In the past their definitions have been based on Judaeo-Christian religions which have a personal god. In Scientology we have recognition of a supreme being but it is left to the individual to decide what the supreme being is."

Established in 1954, Scientology claims to be the only major new religion to have emerged in the 20th century. It claims that about 15,000 people regularly attend its 10 churches in Britain. On their path to spiritual enlightenment, followers are given intense one-to-one counselling by people known as "auditors", who attempt to identify areas of trauma in the brain.

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