Scientologists get government money
A drug awareness programme run by the Church of Scientology has received government funding to spread its views through schools and community groups (Sunday Star Times, 19 February(.
“Drug-free ambassadors” linked to the church have distributed 130,000 drug education booklets around New Zealand, paid for in part by the Department of Internal Affairs’ Community Organisations Grant Scheme. The ambassadors claim at least 18 community groups – including Maori Wardens, one of whom is also an ambassador – and at least seven high schools, endorse and use the materials.
The pamphlets are based on L Ron Hubbard’s ideas on self-improvement through purging oneself of painful experiences.
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell called the information flawed pseudo-science which could prove harmful to youth. “This kind of quackery should not be in our schools ” we are talking about young people’s lives,” he said.
Other critics, including former Scientologists, say the drug-free ambassadors are a front group aimed at recruitment which does not openly disclose its ties to the church. The group, which has various aliases, has also come under fire overseas, including in Australia where its links to the government were described as “worrying”.
Scientology New Zealand listed its income for 2010 as $1.2 million. Drug-Free Ambassadors had an income of approximately $6700, of which $6500 was grants.
Green MP Kevin Hague said any funding given to a group that was a front for the church should be stopped. “In the case of someone who is struggling with drugs, they are very vulnerable. So their exploitation by the church for their own ends is despicable.”
Former Skeptic editor dies
Owen McShane, who was editor of the NZ Skeptic from 1994 to 1997, has died, aged 70 (National Business Review, 7 March).
Owen was a longstanding member of the NZ Skeptics and had a regular column in the NBR. He died suddenly at his home in Kaiwaka near Kaipara Harbour, not long after recent heart surgery.
NBR editor Nevil Gibson writes that Owen’s early career encompassed town planning, urban economics and public policy, and he turned to venture capitalism in the 1970s. More recently he established the Centre for Resource Management, a one-man think tank that advocated a laissez-faire approach to environmental and planning issues. Nonetheless he saw himself as an enthusiastic environmentalist, advocating a “gourmet culture” for small land-holders, and putting his ideas into practice on his own property.
Owen wrote and published extensively on a wide range of issues. He was a columnist for Metro from 1983-94 and launched his own magazine, Straight Thinking, in 1994.
He appeared regularly at resource consent hearings after the passing of the Resource Management Act, on which he was a consultant, fighting against what he saw as destructive planning practices such as “smart growth”.
In 1996, he wrote an important report for the Reserve Bank on how planning rules contributed to the high costs of land for residential building – an issue on which the minister for the environment commissioned a further report in 1998.
He was a member of the committee that recommended casinos be established in New Zealand, a member of the Auckland Area Health Board, and was, says Gibson, a sought-after speaker for local and overseas conferences.
Jesus cures cancer?
A Napier church has raised the ire of locals with a billboard stating “Jesus heals cancer” ( NZ Herald, 28 February).
The Equippers Church in Tamatea claims six people have been healed, but Jody and Bevan Condin, whose three-year-old son Toby has leukaemia, said the billboard made their blood boil.
“I was disgusted, I was absolutely disgusted, and I felt quite sick,” said Mrs Condin. “The sign shows no understanding and compassion for people who have journeyed through cancer and lost loved ones.”
Senior minister Lyle Penisula (yes, that’s his real name) said with the exception of one person, he did not believe the sign was causing offence, so saw no reason to remove it.
The sign may, however, have breached the Advertising Standards Authority’s codes ( NZ Herald, 29 February).
The authority said it would take about 25 days to process the complaint. Before that, however, the church modified the sign (NZ Herald, 7 March). It now reads “Jesus heals every sickness and every disease – Matthew 4:23”.
Jody Condin said she felt the replacement was still misleading. She had watched an Equippers church-goer on television explaining his belief the church had helped cure his cancer, but felt he came across as believing his religion had mainly helped him spiritually.
“He’d had surgery and medication so how does he actually know that Jesus healed him?”
Ms Condin has received emails and phone calls from fellow supporters across the country, some of whom had lost loved ones to cancer.
Mr Penisula said religious advertising and freedom of speech were vital components of a democratic society and the measure ‘truth in advertising’ could not and should not apply for faith-based or religious advertising.
Kiwis big believers in homeopathy
Fifty-one percent of New Zealanders believe homeopathy is scientifically proven, but probably have no understanding of what is, according to a UMR study (The Press, 23 January).
Dr Shaun Holt said homeopathy was based on “nonsensical” theories, and could venture into the bizarre, with materials used in preparations that included mobile phone radiation, whale song and dog testes.
The research showed 59 percent of women and 59 percent of people living in rural areas believed homeopathy was scientifically proven. Under 30-year-olds (37 percent) and Asians (35 percent) were less inclined to believe that this was the case.
UMR Research Director Gavin White said it seemed likely many New Zealanders understood the term ‘homeopathy’ to include a much broader range of natural remedies.
Holt agreed with this explanation. “In general people don’t know what it is. They get it confused with naturopathy. It’s not just members of the public it’s doctors as well.”
However, he would fall short of banning homeopathy. He said homeopaths often had long consultations with patients which made them feel good.
Earthquake adds to ‘hypersensitivity’ problem
A Christchurch woman who claims to suffer from something called electromagnetic hypersensitivity has been sleeping out of doors because of repairs in her earthquake-damaged street (The Press, 17 February).
Anne Gastinger has symptoms including migraines and insomnia, which she attributes to electromagnetic waves and allergies to a range of substances, including treated wood. The symptoms worsened in April last year when overhead powerlines were installed because of damage to underground cables.
Her house had been adapted to avoid triggering the allergies and she hoped to relocate it because it was undamaged. However, covenants on new subdivisions and no policy on buying back houses from the Government made that unlikely, she said.
She rarely spoke about the condition because it was not an acknowledged diagnosis in New Zealand, although a Christchurch GP had provided a medical certificate confirming her symptoms.
In an article on the Organic NZ website in 2010, Anne Gastinger wrote that “leading scientists” claim wifi poses potentially serious health hazards, and that children are the most vulnerable in our community. “Opponents of wifi believe that from the moment it is switched on an odourless, invisible, silent, energetic form of air pollution is introduced into our environment.”