Whether it is our grandparents in a retirement home or innocent children enslaved in a dangerous cult, there are laws that protect all humans from abuse and exploitation. Yet, we see all too often, governments that turn a blind eye, not engaging the power entrusted in them to act when the vulnerable are taken advantage of, violating their intrinsic rights of protection under the law and specific human rights charters.
Even though each Province in Canada has a powerful Human Rights Commission to protect citizens against abuses such as human trafficking, sex slavery and child abuse, the justice system fears treading on freedom of religion rights of the offenders. Perhaps a paradox, but these crimes surely must be addressed to protect the innocent victims.
Many cults such as the polygamous community of Bountiful British Columbia and many practices of Scientology are viewed by many as violating basic human rights and freedoms.
On January 18, 2011, a cult leader’s brother, Truman Oler, alleged that “the isolated polygamous commune of Bountiful, B.C., is a “cult” where religion is used to control residents and take away their rights.” Oler, now 29, testified at a B.C. court case examining Canada’s anti-polygamy law, describing a community where children are taught from an early age that anything less than complete obedience — including entering into polygamous marriages– would mean an eternity in hell.
Religion controlled every aspect of life, said Oler, and children were told to be prepared for whatever the church leadership asked of them. He said boys were taught to treat girls as “dangerous snakes” whose role was to become wives and produce babies.
The US outlawed multiple wives in the late 1800s with the passage of the Morrill and Edmunds-Tucker acts. The Supreme Court ruled in 1879, in George Reynolds v the United States, that religious beliefs – but not religious conduct – are protected by the First Amendment: “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices” (U598:166)
Thus, the main Mormon Church abandoned the principle of polygamy in 1890 in compliance with federal law. The state of Utah, where most polygamous families lived, took further measures, and made plural marriage a third degree felony under a bigamy statute, punishable by five years’ imprisonment.
Plural marriage is illegal today in both the US and Canada, though religious freedom is guaranteed under Canada’s Charter of Rights of Freedoms. This means in practice that British Columbia is relaxed about a man having 30 wives if he says it is based on religious belief.
Surely, protecting those who cannot help themselves, is paramount when considering young, underage girls are forced into marriage. Women and children are beaten. There is rape and incest. Young boys are run out of town because they become the “competition”, as there are never enough women to supply the demands for more plural wives. The prophet teaches racism. Innocent animals are killed. Young girls are taken back and forth across international borders to become “child brides.” People are evicted from their homes just because the men in control don’t like their attitude. Many children are denied a basic education and spend their days working at hard labor or tending to their siblings instead of going to school.
When one examines the practices of Scientology, especially within the Sea Organization, children as young as 12, worked long hours on ships; one alleged to have been chained up by the leg in a ship’s hold for days. The quasi-military like conditions forces young children to obey all commands, with little consideration for conventional education. Because Scientologists believe in re-incarnation, the Sea Org member is expected to sign a one billion year contract.
Critics believe that the Sea Organization is one of the most abusive groups in the world. The abuses that go on daily in the Sea Org are all that more unconscionable because, due to Scientology’s religious status, law enforcement is hindered and refuses to investigate.
Sickness is also treated as the fault of the sick person, because Scientologists believe that the only reason someone gets sick is that they are connected to a Suppressive Person. They believe that you can decide not to get sick. So when someone becomes ill, they are treated as though they have done something wrong by not “handling” the situation.
Anyone who leaves the Sea Org without permission is declared a Suppressive Person by the Church of Scientology, and is ostracized from family, friends, and loved ones.
Unlike the polygamous community of Bountiful where child bearing is a forced, promoted doctrine, the Scientology Sea Organization forbids members to have children while in the Sea ORG. Numerous female members of the Sea Org insist they were pressured to have abortions, and were threatened with separation from their families, hard labor, interrogations, and shunning, if they did not comply.
I watched a video yesterday of a teacher taking a class of young children through a scenario of child slavery and exploitation. At the end, one girl raised her hand and asked “Does this still happen today?”
Perhaps the Quebec Human Rights Commission Tribunal said it best in a 1995 case of exploitation of human rights: “The Tribunal finds that the legislation does not only address economic exploitation, but also concerns physical, psychological, and social or moral exploitation. The Tribunal finds that there was nothing to justify such exploitation. Even if one were to accept the argument that regular work brought certain advantages to the residents, this could not in any way justify exploitation.”
“The Tribunal rejects the argument that the residents or others consented to such treatment. There can be no consent or agreement with respect to exploitation.”
Many criminal organisations hide behind their so-called religious beliefs, and freedom of religion is an intrinsic right, but nobody, including those entities recognized in some countries as a religion, are above the law.
David Edgar Love