Diskeeper: when is a religion not a religion?

As reported earlier (via the excellent counterknowledge.com), ex-employees of Diskeeper (a software company) have sued their former employer, claiming that they were pressured into taking Scientology training.

The Diskeeper corporation was founded by a Scientologist and involves training in various business techniques developed by the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard. Their website contains multiple references to Hubbard, including gushing comments from the CEO on how much he owed to Hubbard’s teachings.

These ties to Scientology caused a problem when the program was shipped automatically with Windows 2000. That year, Germany raised complaints with Microsoft due to the government’s opposition to the cult.

The use of Hubbard’s training techniques was the trigger for a recent lawsuit (pdf) filed against the company on grounds on religious discrimination. The suit was filed by ex-employees claiming they were fired after refusing to attend Hubbard-based classes on religious grounds.

Here we run into Scientology’s fundamental contradiction: When is a religion not a religion?
Answer: Whenever it’s convenient.

Narconon is a drug “rehabilitation” program operating as a front group for the Church of Scientology. They take Hubbard’s writings – including programs such as the Purification Rundown, which is explicitly described as a spiritual activity – and claim them to be secular when dealing with the general public, yet religious when dealing within Scientology.

Similarly, Hubbard’s Study Tech is promoted in schools around the world, most recently by the Will Smith-affiliated New Village Academy. Yet, as pointed out by David S. Touretzky in his essay on Study Tech:

Study Tech is routinely claimed by its supporters to be wholly secular. Applied Scholastics’ chief executive officer Bennetta Slaughter told the Associated Press in July 2003 that “we have no religious materials.” Ian Lyons, the organization’s former President, told National Public radio in an August 1997 interview that “there’s nothing religious, there’s no Scientology in them.” J. Gordon Melton, a University of California religion scholar and author of the Encyclopedia of American Religion, has reviewed Applied Scholastics’ textbooks and judged them “purely secular.” The State of California’s textbook review committee agreed when it considered the issue in 1997: “There’s no religion mentioned in those books. They don’t say anything about Scientology.” (St Louis Post Dispatch, March 21, 2002)

However, a detailed examination of the Study Tech materials reveals a very different picture. It is certainly true that Study Tech does not mention the word “Scientology.” But this is only because that word has systematically been removed from the Study Tech books. In every other respect, Study Tech is entirely derived from Scientology. Much of its training materials is taken directly from Scientology religious works, often word-for-word. Because the details of Scientology doctrine are not widely known and its works are not generally available, it can be hard for non-Scientologists to spot the connections. But even the most profoundly unversed reader can hardly fail to spot the similarities — and direct matches — when Scientology and Study Tech books are compared side-by-side.

Again – what is religious when it’s useful (the word “tax” springs to mind) is secular when it’s convenient (as an inroad into society.)

The situation at Diskeeper, according to the lawsuit, seems similar. Point 9 in the lawsuit opens as follows:

The working conditions and work environment at Diskeeper were inextricably intertwined with the Scientology religion such that a non-Scientologist cannot escape constant impositions of said religion. From the abundance of religious artwork to the repeated use of quotations from Scientology’s founder, L Ron Hubbard, directly taken from his religious writings, to the general and day-to-day use of vernacular taken from Scientology teachings […] These employment practices are a subtle form of indoctrination and proselytization.

“Subtle” only in the sense that, they claim, it isn’t religion they’re promoting.

Intriguingly, Diskeeper has introduced a motion to strike (pdf) part of the lawsuit, an injunction that would prevent the company from requiring employees to study Hubbard’s writings. Their argument is that this would violate freedom of religion – a stance which would seem to implicitly support the claim that these courses are religious, rather than secular, in nature.

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