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The Volunteer Minister (VM) program of the Church of Scientology dispatches groups of Scientologists using techniques developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. According to the Church, "It is a worldwide movement that has for more than 25 years [as of 2002[1]] worked across national, racial, political and religious boundaries in more than 150 countries to help people deal with upheavals and has helped them put their lives back together." The activities of the Volunteer Ministers are largely funded by the International Association of Scientologists, which has sponsored a worldwide advertising campaign with the slogan "Something can be done about it - Call a Volunteer Minister."[2] The Church says that the program constitutes "the only effective steps to arrest and reverse the deterioration of [the] world."[3] Some critics say that the program is oriented towards publicity and promotion for the Church of Scientology as well as recruitment.[4][5] Reports have shown that a primary goal of the Volunteer Ministers is to prevent disaster victims from receiving professional psychological help.[4][5] However, some local officials are reported to have welcomed their assistance[6] and in the U.S. the VM Disaster Response team is a National Member of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD).[7]

Contents

Objectives

According to Hubbard, the objective of the program is to "put basic Dianetics and Scientology technology into view and into use at the raw public level."[8] The Church of Scientology has compiled instructions on how to use Scientology methods to resolve personal issues into a book, The Volunteer Minister's Handbook. In Hubbard's words, "this book will be broadly distributed on Scn and non-Scientology lines, bought by the man on the street. He'll use some of the data, produce some miracles, save a marriage or two, rescue some kid from drugs, help his next door neighbor who's upset because her child's failing in school and couldn't care less, plus brighten up her yawning of Spring and teach him to study, and handle Aunt Martha's dizziness with assists."[8]

Volunteer Ministers are trained on courses, each of which take approximately 2 weeks,[9] which instruct the individual in how to "do such things as preserve marriages, get delinquent children back in the fold, handle dissident elements in the society, get families out of the red by better cooperation, solve human conflict and other such positive actions." [3]

Origins

The program is the successor to earlier Scientology outreach efforts, notably the "Casualty Contact" program for recruiting new Scientologists (called "preclears") from hospitals, the scenes of accidents and other places where people might have experienced trauma. As Hubbard put it, "One takes every daily paper he can get his hands on and cuts from it every story whereby he might have a preclear. [...] He should represent himself to the person or the person's family as a minister whose compassion was compelled by the newspaper story concerning the person. [...]."[10]

Hubbard advised that "using his minister's card, an auditor need only barge into any non-sectarian hospital, get permission to visit the wards from the superintendent, mentioning nothing about processing but only about taking care of people's souls."[11] The primary objective was simply to recruit more members for Scientology: "Some small percentage of the persons visited or their families will turn up in his group. Thus he will build a group and naturally from that group he will get a great many individual preclears."[10] This was, however, not how the program was to be presented to the general public: "A great many miracles will follow in his wake and he is later to become a subject of the press himself. However, in handling the press we should simply say that it is a mission of the Church to assist those who are in need of assistance."[11]

The Volunteer Ministers program is also intended to operate as a recruitment activity. As Hubbard puts it,

As the benefits of the Volunteer Minister program begin to spread throughout the society, a rank and file of people that have been helped will begin to accumulate. These people will begin to feed into missions and Churches of Scientology from wherever the Volunteer Minister has been at work. [3]

Organizational aspects

Scientology volunteer minister tent in Sweden, October 2008

In recent years, the Church of Scientology has heavily promoted and greatly increased the profile and size of the Volunteer Ministers program. Church publications say that there are over 95,000 Volunteer Ministers - more than the Peace Corps, Americorps and United Nations volunteer programs combined.[12]. The Church has set a target of recruiting as many Volunteer Ministers as there are policemen in each of the principal countries in which Scientology is active. In 2001, the Church announced a number of target quotas for Volunteer Minister recruitment, as follows: [13]

Country   Total inhabitants   Quota for VMs
Australia 18,783,551 58,229
Austria 8,139,299 5,231
Canada 31,006,347 6,118
Denmark 5,356,845 6,603
France 58,978,172 82,831
Germany 82,087,361 254,469
Italy 56,735,130 175,878
Sweden 8,911,296 27,624
United States 272,639,608 845,184

However, an ARIS demographic study by the University of New York estimated in 2000 that there may only be 55,000 Scientologists in the whole of the United States.[14]

Recent activities

Volunteer Ministers have frequently been sent to the scenes of major disasters, where they distribute copies of a pamphlet authored by L. Ron Hubbard entitled The Way to Happiness and offer therapy that is claimed to calm or relieve pain, using techniques known in Scientology as Assists, such as "Locationals," "Nerve assists" and "Touch assists." [6][15] They have also undertaken work to improve local facilities and activities such as providing manpower to assist flood defense efforts.[16]

Volunteer Ministers have been sent to the site of relief efforts in Southeast Asia in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami and to London Underground stations that were attacked in the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Eight hundred were sent to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina and [17] The Volunteer Minister program most heavily promoted by the Church of Scientology took place in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, when approximately 800 Scientologists were sent to New York City to participate in the relief efforts there.[18]

The ministers have also disseminated scientology teachings after the Yogjakarta Indonesian earthquake, Philippines Typhoon Durian, U.S. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Africa's Cyclone Favio, Australia's and Cyclone Larry, the South Africa Table Top Mountain bushfire, the 2007 Victoria, Australia bushfires, Jakarta floods, Soloman Islands tsunami and Greensburg Kansas tornado.[citation needed]

In 2005, the group was honored for their efforts by Florida Governor Jeb Bush with a "Points of Light Award" for "exemplary volunteer service to their community."[19][20]

Controversy

As with many of the Church of Scientology's programs, the Volunteer Ministers have generated controversy and criticism. Critics of Scientology accuse the organization of offering medically dubious therapy (Hubbard's "assists" have gained negligible credibility among the medical or psychological professions)[21] and of attempting to take advantage of disasters in order to promote Scientology to a grief-stricken populace.[22]

The Volunteer Minister program most heavily promoted by Scientology took place in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Critics of Scientology accused the organization of attempting to take advantage of the disaster in order to promote Scientology to the grief-stricken populace in the area. An intercepted email from a Sea Org "Lieutenant" brags of a deliberate plan to prevent the grief-stricken from receiving counseling from psychiatrists.[23]

"Due to some brilliant maneuvering by some simply genius Sea Org Members we tied up the majority of the psychs who were attempting to get to families yesterday in Q&A, bullbait and wrangling. [... The survivors] don't know it but they need the Scientologists with LRH's tech to be here right now."

The National Mental Health Association issued a public warning in response to the conduct of Scientologists in the immediate aftermath of September 11, claiming that scientologists were "Intentionally confusing [the] public" by presenting themselves as mental health service providers. According to NMHA President Michael M. Faenza, "The public needs to understand that the Scientologists are using this tragedy to recruit new members. They are not providing mental health assistance."[5]

In Russia, after the Beslan school hostage crisis tragedy in 2004, the Health Ministry ordered Scientologists out of the area, saying "that various psychological tactics the groups use, including what it called hypnosis, may be harmful not only for adults, but for children that have already suffered severe mental shock."[24][25]

In the United Kingdom, Volunteer Ministers played a similar role in the aftermath of the 7 July 2005 London bombings, targeting the families of victims and emergency workers. As in the United States in 2001, this resulted in controversy, and it was reported that Volunteer Ministers had been removed from the vicinity of survivors of the bus bombing in Tavistock Square.[26] It later emerged that the Metropolitan Police had agreed to give the Church of Scientology privileged access to the Police Message Broadcasting System, enabling the Church to dispatch Volunteer Minister rapid-response teams in the event of future emergencies in the capital.[27]

Paul Fletcher, director of the London branch of CCHR and Stefania Cisco, a Director of Special Affairs for Scientology, admitted to an undercover BBC reporter that the purpose of the volunteer ministeres was to keep the psychiatists away, and called this "spiritual security".[4][28]

After the Virginia Tech massacre, April 16, 2007, 20 Volunteer Minister were on the campus.[29] Bulletins to Scientology members said that help had been requested by the university provost, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, but these organizations denied that any requests had been made. The activities of the Volunteer Ministers at Virginia Tech was reported to have received strong criticism from local pastors.[30][31]

References

  1. ^ Scientology - Church of Scientology Official Site
  2. ^ "Volunteer Minister Dissemination Program," brochure issued by International Association of Scientologists, 2001
  3. ^ a b c Hubbard, "Volunteer Ministers," HCO Policy Letter 22 February 1991
  4. ^ a b c "Reporter Elodie Harper goes undercover to reveal the tactics used by Scientology followers in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events." (Real Audio (45 min)). Five Live Report (BBC Radio). 2006-07-02. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/networks/fivelive/aod.shtml?fivelive/flreport_scientologynew. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  5. ^ a b c "Beware Scientologists Claiming To Be Mental Health Professionals," official statement, National Mental Health Association, September 17, 2001
  6. ^ a b Goodman, Peter S. (2005-01-28). "For Tsunami Survivors, A Touch of Scientology". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43291-2005Jan27.html. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  7. ^ "National VOAD Members Resource Directory" (Word Document) Retrieved on 2009-05-31
  8. ^ a b Hubbard, "The Volunteer Ministers Program," Flag Bureau Data Letter 424, 11 July 1974
  9. ^ http://www.volunteerminister.org/eng/about/courses.htm
  10. ^ a b Hubbard, "Three methods of dissemination," Professional Auditor's Bulletin 73, 28 February 1956.
  11. ^ a b Hubbard, "Dissemination Tips," HCO Bulletin 15 September 1959
  12. ^ The Bridge, Magazine of the Church of Scientology of Sydney. Issue 385, April 2006
  13. ^ "Cause" magazine, Magazine of the International Ecclesiastical League of Pastors (I HELP), December 2001
  14. ^ Kosmin, Barry A. American Religious Identification Survey (accessed April 20, 2006)
  15. ^ Explanation of a touch assist from the Scientology Handbook
  16. ^ "Scientology Volunteer Ministers of Budapest helping to protect the city", Church of Scientology press release, 21 April 2006
  17. ^ Associated Press, "Scientology missions spring up in hurricane-damaged areas." 15 May 2006
  18. ^ United States - New York - September 11 (Scientology.org)
  19. ^ http://www.volunteerfloridafoundation.org/index.php Search for "Scientology" to verify award. accessed 2006-10-18
  20. ^ http://www.scientology.org/en_US/news-media/news/2005/050329.html accessed 2006-10-18
  21. ^ Probert, Sarah (2004-04-22). "Therapy head dimisses healing claims". Birmingham Post. http://icbirmingham.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0100localnews/tm_method=full%26objectid=14169990%26siteid=50002-name_page.html. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  22. ^ Perera, Janaka (2005-06-10). "Scientology: Cult of greed in divine garb". Asian Tribune. http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2005/06/10/scientology-cult-greed-divine-garb. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  23. ^ Intercepted Email from Lt. Simon Hare, according to Operation Clambake.
  24. ^ "Health Ministry Asks Police to Shut Down Church of Scientology in Beslan". MosNews. 2004-10-12. http://www.mosnews.com/news/2004/10/12/scientologybeslan.shtml. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  25. ^ "Scientologists Sent Packing from Beslan — Police". MosNews. 2004-10-22. http://www.mosnews.com/news/2004/10/22/scientologists.shtml. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  26. ^ Moyes, Stephen (12 July 2005). "7/7 War on Britain: Sick Comfort". Daily Mirror (London): pp. 10. "At the bus-bomb scene, 12 Scientologists in yellow T- shirts carrying the words Volunteer Minister were ushered away from survivors." 
  27. ^ "Met allows Cruise's sect access to data on security alerts". Evening Standard. 2007-03-20. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/showbiz/article-23389685-details/article.do. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  28. ^ Transcript of BBC Radio report on Volunteer Ministers, 2 July 2006
  29. ^ George Rush; Joanna Rush Molloy (2007-04-17). "Critics: Scientologists' Va. trip a time to prey". NY Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/gossip/r_m/2007/04/18/2007-04-18_critics_scientologists_va_trip_a_time_to.html. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  30. ^ Cook, John (2007-04-24). "Slinging Scientology, Mud on VT Campus". Fresh Intelligence (Radar Online). http://www.radaronline.com/exclusives/2007/04/as-we-reported-friday-the.php. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  31. ^ Podger, Pamela J. (2007-04-26). "Scientologists visiting Va. Tech to help". The Roanoke Times. http://www.roanoke.com/vtcampus/wb/114629. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 

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