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Australian Senate rejects Scientology inquiry call

By Rod McGuirk
Associated Press Writer / March 18, 2010

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CANBERRA, Australia—Australia's Senate on Thursday overwhelming rejected a call for an inquiry into allegations against the Church of Scientology made by former members who claim to have been abused, harassed or coerced into having abortions.

Sen. Nick Xenophon's motion to authorize a senate committee to hold a wide-reaching inquiry into the church that was founded in 1953 by the late U.S. science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard attracted only six votes in the 76-seat chamber. Another 33 voted against it and the remaining senators abstained.

The church welcomed the Senate's rejection of what the church described as a "political witch hunt."

"Allegations by some women that they were forced to have abortions are nonsense," the church said in a statement from its Australian headquarters in Sydney. "It is not the role of parliament to investigate any religious organization or seek to use parliament as a forum for an unfounded attack on any religion."

A handful of former church members watched the Senate vote from the public gallery, including Jeanette Lang, who claims the church pressured her into having two abortions.

"I'm humiliated, I worry about what other people think of me, I worry about what I think of me -- what I've done because at the end of the day, it was me who went through with it," Lang told reporters before the vote.

Sen. Chris Evans, the Labor government's leader in the upper house, said the allegations against the church should be investigated -- but not by a parliamentary inquiry. The measure faced defeat since neither the ruling Labor Party nor the opposition Liberal Party supported it.

"This troubles me and claims about other sects trouble me," Evans told the Senate.

Xenophon, an independent, said he would continue to push for an inquiry when parliament reconvenes in May.

The Los Angeles-based church has long attracted controversy. In October last year, a Paris court convicted the church of fraud and fined it more than $900,000, but stopped short of banning its activities in France.