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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
"No Experience Necessary..."
Why did Scientology post a jobs ad in local papers when they were not offering paid employment?

After a brief pause, Judge Yves Régimont continued his questioning of Myriam Z.* By now it was 11:00 am, so the defendant had been on the stand for the best part of two hours.

But now he wanted to ask her about the other affair – the second investigation launched years later and which had eventually been merged with the first.

Even if the two cases had eventually been merged into one, Myriam Z. was the only one of the individual defendants to have been charged in both.

Judge Régimont sketched out the details. This second inquiry had started, he reminded her, after Scientology had posted adverts offering work.

Actiris, the Brussels regional employment office, had filed a complaint in 2008 alleging that Scientology had used fake job ads to try to recruit members.

Earlier in the trial, the judge had already referred to the accounts from people who had answered the ads expecting to find paid work. Investigators, he said, had established that more than 300 people had replied to the ads.

“Do you remember what happened there?” the judge asked. “Because you said at one point that it was not really you who was behind it. Explain to us.”

The campaign had been at the initiative of a colleague who had worked in another section, the one that concerned itself with recruitment, Myriam explained. "He had taken the initiative to put in an ad of that kind,” she said.

The ad had been due to appear a week or two later, but he had been working during the day while she had been working evenings… She appeared to be suggesting that somewhere along the line there had been a breakdown in communication. Then a lot of people started turning up at the Church, she said.

“There was a woman who said she had been promised a salary. It seemed that we had promised things that had not been announced.” Here, the interpreter seemed to be struggling converting Myriam's Dutch into French. But the sense of it appeared to be that someone at the Church had promised more than they could deliver.

“We couldn’t give them the salaries because we couldn’t give them work contracts,” she explained. “We could only give them work as volunteers…

“The aim was to find more active members,” she added.

Generally speaking in the philosophy of the Church, the judge asked: do staff have to be members of the Church?

“Yes,” said Myriam. “That’s logical.”

So, said the judge, the ads had gone in the free weeklies Passe-partout and Vlan:

Non-profit seeks administrative assistant – training provided, no experience necessary.

And they had appeared in the jobs sections, the judge pointed out.

“The phrasing of the ad: that does not seem part of the logic of the Church,” the judge remarked drily.

“To keep telling me, Madame, that you should put the Church of Scientology in a correct context, that people are talking nonsense (n’importe quoi), that you are being dragged through the mud. Was this not a dream opportunity to restore your reputation?”

Judge Régimont was working up a head of steam now.

Why, he asked, did the Church have to put this ad in the employment section in the first place?

Myriam repeated that it had been another colleague who had drawn it up. She tried to elaborate, but the judge was not satisfied.

He dictated a note to the clerk of the court as he did when he wanted to summarise what he considered to be key points.

“Mme Z. says that so far as the advert in Vlams and Passe-partout is concerned, it was not she who had the initiative for this ad but it is true that at it was at first published in the ‘Jobs’ section."

Once she had been informed of this, he added, she contacted a lawyer “who told her that it was not opportune to publish this ad in that section…”

One woman objected that as a Muslim she could not be part of another religion. She was told: “Don’t worry… Scientology is not a religion.”

And why, he asked, had they not identified Scientology in the ad?

“It was a small ad and we did not have a lot of money,” she replied.

That did not seem to satisfy the judge. He said something to the effect that there weren’t that many more letters involved. “‘There are no problems; there are only solutions’,” he added. (1)

Bien,” he said; fine. It was his way of drawing a line under the matter.

Myriam laughed nervously.

And why, the judge asked, did no one say when people phoned ‘You are at the Church of Scientology’?”

“I dispute that,” said Myriam. “People said ‘Hello, Church of Scientology’.”

But some of the people who had filed complaints had said that when they arrived, the only thing they saw was a Dianetics sign. “So these people are talking nonsense?” he asked.

“That’s not quite right,” said Myriam. “It should say the Church of Scientology Belgium.”

“So all these people got it wrong?” the judge said. “Because if these people are all saying things that are not accurate we are not going to get anywhere.”

Myriam insisted on this point: so far as what was on the door as one went in, there was a Dianetics sign on the left and a Church of Scientology sign in both languages (French and Dutch).

“So these people arrived, and what happened?” asked the judge. “Let’s say they didn’t understand it was the Church of Scientology. I want to believe,” he added. “I want to believe everything you tell me – for now at least.

“They say ‘I was offered a salary’ and you say ‘No’?” he left a question mark hanging at the end of the sentences. Clearly, he was waiting for some explanation of these conflicting accounts.

Myriam went over how the new arrivals were received; how they were given a tour of the Church’s premises. “We explained what the Church of Scientology was and then they saw a film,” a DVD that lasted about an hour, she added. And it would have been clear from that film that Scientology was a religion.

“I’ll interrupt here,” said the judge. He understood that Scientology considered itself a religion: the previous week, the court had heard from a religious expert called by the defence who had spelled that out.

But then, from the case files, he cited an account from a Moroccan woman, one of those who had answered the job ad.

She had told the Scientologists: “I am Muslim and so I can’t be part of another religion,” said the judge, reading from her statement. One Scientologist had replied: “Don’t worry, it’s quite compatible. Scientology is not a religion.”

Either Scientologists were serious about their religion or they didn’t think twice about saying the opposite when it suited them, said the judge: which was it?

“That is what this woman is saying,” said the judge. “Or she is lying too?”

“I don’t know if that was said during an interview,” said Myriam. “But if it was said, it was an error.”

“So the person she spoke to who said it was not a religion, she broke the rules of Scientology, yes?” the judge asked.

Yes, said Myriam. “If she said that, then it was clearly not correct.”

“Do we know who said this?” asked the judge. “Do we know who told this person…? Because this is an enormous error in Scientology. I suppose this person has an ethics file,” he added.

Myriam mentioned a Madame P. who had been “corrected several times regarding the interviews she conducted, notably concerning the promise of a salary.”

It was still not clear, said the judge, whether these people were being recruited for jobs or as members of the Church.

And why, the judge asked, would Mme P. have advertised for people who had nothing to do with Scientology? “If there was a lack of personnel, why not place an internal announcement?

“Why did you have to go outside to look for people when the logic of Scientology was that Scientologists become staff?...

“Why did you have to go outside?” the judge asked. Was this Mme. P. some kind of a loose cannon?

They had in fact placed internal ads and contacted several members of the Church, said Myriam: but they did not have enough active members. Then Mme P. had come up with the idea of using the small ads.

She herself had been busy with her human rights work at the time, working with a number of volunteers, Myriam added.

“There is nothing wrong with having people working as volunteers,” said the judge. “But when you read the accounts given by the applicants, they were expected to sign official forms.”

It was still not clear to him, said the judge, whether these people were being recruited for jobs or as members for the Church.

The point behind the forms was that the people should know what they were dealing with, said Myriam.

“So first you bring them in,” said the judge, “and then [you] convince them that if they want to work they should adhere to the doctrine of Scientology?”

“People who work as active members are really convinced that they can really help people,” said Myriam, which seemed a bit of a non sequitur.

“And training was provided,” she added. “That was in the ad. And when people come to do training they have to know where they are and what they should do. So it was very important to inform people correctly as to what Scientology was.”

But the judge was not satisfied. And he was just getting started.

* While Belgian law allows me to identify the defendants, most of the news media here choose not to do that. After consulting with local colleagues, I was told that the convention is to wait until the judgment. It seems reasonable to respect that practice.

The photo is of the Scientology job ad, a screen shot from the December 28, 2012 RTBF news report.

1) He may have been quoting André Gide: “Il n’y a pas de problèmes; il n’y a que des solutions”.

#Scientology, #Belgium, #trial