Controversial Scientology Church tours questioned by former members

Auckland ratepayers are footing the bill to promote tours of a controversial church.

The Church of Scientology is opening its doors as part of the Auckland Heritage Festival, but an ex-member fears there's an agenda behind the gesture.

The church is one of many buildings involved in the Auckland Council heritage festival from the end of this month. 

Ex-scientologist Glenda Smith used to do a PR for the church, and says it's part of a plan to counter the perception of secretive practices and allegations of international human rights abuses, which the church denies. 

"Opening their doors to the public like this for the heritage festival is an agenda to gain public acceptability," Ms Smith says.

Scientologist Shilpa Bavisha says the church will showcase restoration work, and it's not a guise to recruit members. 

"For heritage week we are not here for that purpose - when people walk through the doors and say what is Scientology, they're welcome to find out about it."

But the council has rules around that with all event-holders having to sign a declaration agreeing not to use the festival for their own political agenda. 

Around $90,000 of ratepayer funds has been spent on advertising the festival, and participants run the tours themselves. 

Celebrity scientologist Tom Cruise visited the Auckland branch last year - but Ms Smith says not everyone has the same experience within the church. 

"I think the council's in a very difficult position here - they can't be seen to be discriminating, but I think there's a very big story behind Scientology that people do need to be aware of."



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