Actress Leah Remini’s damning expose of Scientology, Aftermath, has brought the church and its abuses to national attention. Throughout the show, Leah and other former Scientologists have repeated their desire to see the U.S. government “step in” and “do something.” But is there anything the government can actually do? The answer is: not much.
The U.S. Government Can’t Just Ban An Entire Religion
The Founding Fathers of the United States were extremely leery of government interference into religion, so much so that the right to practice religion, free of government interference, is enshrined in the first sentence of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The second half of that sentence above, referred to by legal scholars as the “free exercise” clause, basically provides blanket protection for just about any religious practice — within certain parameters. For example, you can’t do something that would otherwise be considered a crime, for example, and expect to get away with it because of the “free exercise” clause (more on this in a few paragraphs). But excluding religious acts that are actual crimes, the U.S. government cannot ban a religious practice, and especially not an entire religion itself.
But Scientology Is A Cult, Or A Business, Or Some Other Thing That’s Not A Religion
If Scientology is actually a business wrapped in the guise of a belief system, can the government not just attack it from that angle? Germany took that approach, and the results have been… controversial. According to a release from the German Embassy in Washington, the German government considers Scientology “an organization pursuing commercial interests” rather than a religion. Further, the German government said, “pseudo-scientific courses can seriously jeopardise individuals’ mental and physical health, and that it exploits its members.”
Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with German Scientologists, who saw it as an attack on their freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by Germany’s Grundgesetz, the document that serves as Germany’s constitution.
That’s simply not going to happen in the United States. The U.S. government, simply put, is not in the business of declaring what is and is not a religion — and that is not a role that many Americans would be comfortable with their government taking.
But What About All Of The Abuses?
That Scientology abuses its members financially, spiritually, emotionally, and in other ways is beyond dispute. But those allegations can be made against, well, just about any religion practiced in America. Surely there are Christian sects and denominations that shun “disobedient” members and separate them from their families; or pressure members to give so much money to their churches that they impoverish themselves; or perform any number of abuses employed by Scientology or other cults.
Those actions are not crimes, at least, not according to U.S. law.
However, Remini and other Scientologists have raised damning allegations of other crimes committed within the church that are actual crimes: physical abuse, for example, of both adults and children, and sexual abuse of children. Those allegations definitely need to be looked into. But the problem is, those allegations can only be “looked into” if someone complains to law enforcement — and Scientology frowns on its members complaining outside of the community, to put it mildly.
Like It Or Not, Scientology Is Here To Stay
Leah Remini should be commended for exposing the abuses of Scientology. However, her call for the U.S. government to “step in” and “do something” is little more than a platitude. The best Leah can do is what she and other former Scientologists are doing now: expose the abuses of the church and educate the public about the dangers of this religion.
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