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2 Feb, 2010 22:27

Scientologists looking for converts in Haiti

Members of the Church of Scientology have arrived in Haiti - bringing aid, but also looking for new members.

 Members of the Church of Scientology, led by John Travolta, have flown to Haiti to work in disaster relief. Travolta himself flew a plane carrying supplies and medical professionals to the devastated island and arranged for another plane. In addition to the much needed aid, Travolta’s plan also carried 50 Scientologist volunteers, some of which may be hoping to cultivate new members. An email making the rounds of Scientologists recently asks for financial help to support church members going to conduct training seminars in Port au Prince.

Arriving on the scene of a disaster is not unusual for Scientologists. The founder of the church, L. Ron Hubbard, wrote about a strategy called “Casualty Contact,” which advocates searching out victims of tragedy as potential converts. Today this strategy is called the Volunteer Minister’s program. The distinctive yellow tents of the program have been seen at Ground Zero in the days following the 9/11 attacks, the subway attacks in London as well as the massacre in the Russian city of Beslan. After seeing their work, officials from the Russian ministry of health asked the volunteers to leave, saying their methods were unhelpful to the traumatized children.

“Wherever there is a disaster, you will find a bunch of scientologists in bright yellow t-shirts,” said Ravi Somaiya, an editor with Gawker.com who uncovered this story. “They believe they are doing good. They believe the only way to true happiness is through Scientology.”

However, others on the ground say that Scientologist are taking landing slots at Port au Prince’s strapped airport from Doctors Without Borders and other aid groups. They are also rumored to be getting in the way of victims trying to get medical treatment, for example, trying to talk to people being prepped for surgery.

“They are not sending people who speak Creole, they are doing a lot of touching are just adding to the confusion on the ground,” said Somaiya. “It’s not overtly doing harm, but it’s not what people need at this time,” he added.

Scientology was founded in 1953 by Hubbard, a science fiction writer. It has been banned in France and several other countries, including and Germany, consider it a commercial organization rather than a religion. Major Scientologist tenets include a belief in reincarnation, life on other planets and a skepticism of psychiatry and other medical treatments.