A couple of days ago I got (in my professional capacity) a kit titled “Bringing Human Rights to Life”, published by United for Human Rights. According to the introductory letter the kit is designed for teaching human rights to students in secondary and post-secondary educational institutions. The kit consists of a DVD titled “The Story of Human Rights” (which I haven’t watched and probably won’t) and two pamphlets on human rights which basically include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and some contextual text on the current state of human rights – somewhat informative and rather innocuous stuff. There is also a fact sheet, a non-specific “action” letter, a coupon for joining “United for Human Rights” (at a $40 annual membership) and an order form for getting more copies of the DVD (at $15 a pop) or the cheaply-made, rather useless booklets (at $1.50 each). The Educator’s Guide, whatever that is, costs $37.50.
What I find interesting is that nowhere in the kit, there is any mention of “United for Human Rights” being a non-profit organization (I rather guess they are a for-profit “publishing” company), or that they are associated with Scientology, the pseudo-religion invented by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. However, a visit to its website shows that “United for Human Rights” is associated with Youth for Human Rights (YHRI), a non-profit organization founded and mostly staffed by Scientologists and which coordinates most of its major activities with the “Church”.
The “Church” of Scientology is well known for its interesting “theological beliefs” – namely that an inter-galactic dictator named Xenu brought his people to the earth millions of years ago, then proceeded to kill them and now their “essences” go around infecting people and causing them harm. In order to rid yourself of those pesky spiritual invaders, you have to pay the “Church” of Scientology many, many, thousands of dollars.
But it’s not just money that the “Church’s” followers/victims have to part with. They are forced to give up control of their lives, give up contact with any relatives/friends who are antagonistic towards the “religion”, perform slave labor, and even have unwanted abortions. And this is just the tip of the iceberg (Time magazine had a very interesting article uncovering much of the coercive practices of the “church” leadership).
It may seem ironic that an organization that has been faulted for its inhuman practices against its devotees would show interest towards promoting human rights. My take is that there are three main reasons for this. The first is that since its beginnings, Scientology has been trying to portray itself as a religion – not just to get tax-free status (and as a mega-corporation I’m sure that’s a big part), but also to portray itself as the victim of religious persecution. It behooves Scientology, therefore, to foment the human right of religious freedom, hoping that in the eyes of the people this will envelope them as well.
The second is that Scientology has been very smart, and very good, at introducing itself into educational institutions by providing them with free or cheap educational materials. They use this access to push their “message” on unsuspecting children. It worked for them with drug education, so it makes sense they would try human rights education next.
Finally, I think that Scientology wants to clean up its image by associating its “work” with that of well-regarded international human rights organizations. Their literature contains links to the major non-governmental, governmental and international human rights bodies, and Youth for Human Rights claims partnerships with organizations such as Amnesty International South Africa and the Mexican National Human Rights Commission. I wonder if these groups know of YHRI’s Scientology connections.
In any case, my primary motive for this posting is to clarify the connection between “United for Human Rights” and Scientology, so that other human rights activists and educators who receive the kit I got, will known whom it’s coming from.