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by Peter Farron

Monday February 12, 2001

SUPERSTARS Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, divorcing after 10 years, are getting ready for a potentially nasty legal battle over how their children will be raised, The Post has learned.

Battle lines are likely to be drawn over the religion of the children.

Cruise is so dedicated to the controversial Church of Scientology that he insisted the children were born according to a Scientology ritual.

Kidman, on the other hand, left the church nearly a year ago. Sources say she does not want the children, Isabella Jane, 8, and Connor, 6, raised according to the teachings and methods of the controversial religion.

Parents who have some experience with Scientology's child-rearing practices say Kidman is right to be concerned. Teresa Summers, of Clearwater, Fla., who raised one child inside Scientology and one outside, told the Post: "I was a Scientologist for years and worked in the Sea Organization, Scientology's religious order. We had a terrible experience."

Actor Tom Berenger
alleged brainwashing
She said Scientologists are encouraged not to treat sick children with conventional medication, not to comfort and nurture children, and to cut or restrict ties with grandparents if they are not Scientologists.

"Mothers who have raised children in the Church of Scientology and come out have a terrible sense of guilt over what our children went through," Summers told the Post. "They had children doing physical work, sometimes 40 to 60 hours a week. It could be anything - shoveling gravel, laying carpet, but mostly it was clerical work," she said.

"I also worked in one of their schools, in Clearwater, Fla. Many of the children don't do as well as they should academically.

"Teachers don't have college degrees. They are trained in Scientology technology. They don't explain. They don't help. If some child doesn't understand, it's because they don't understand a particular word, so kids are constantly being told to just look up a word." AFTER 20 years as a Scientologist, Summers now works for the Lisa McPherson Trust, an organization that actively opposes the Church of Scientology.

The church runs a network of private schools in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oregon, Virginia, Florida and Vancouver.

Applied Scholastics, a Scientology subsidiary that runs the church's school program, claims its students have higher SAT scores than the national average, higher math scores on the California Achievement Test and lower rates of violence.

But parents of some former students dispute that group's figures. Stephanie Graham, of Orlando, Fla., who put two children through Church of Scientology schools, said her children had difficulty keeping up in state schools after she left the church.

"Children raised in Scientology are often given only minimal basic education," she said. "It's not an education; it's propaganda and pseudo-science."

The sometimes bizarre application of Church of Scientology attitudes to children begins at birth.

When he adopted Isabella and Connor, Cruise insisted their biological mothers deliver the babies in near-silence, under conditions dictated by founder L. Ron Hubbard in his best-selling book "Dianetics."

Kelly Preston, wife of leading Hollywood Scientologist John Travolta, had both of her children under similar conditions. After the birth of their second child, Ella Bleu, Travolta explained to reporters what the method means in practice.

"We do the traditional French Lamaze, but in Dianetics, you try and keep the delivery room quiet so there's nothing recorded in the child's mind that shouldn't be there while there's pain going on.

"Kelly is free to moan, because the sounds are not as detrimental. Any people saying any kind of negative verbiage may adversely affect the baby later on."

SCIENTOLOGISTS believe pain and negative experiences imprint themselves on the mind as "engrams" and affect subsequent behavior. The silent birthing technique is supposed to prevent "engrams" being formed on the child's mind.

The same pseudo-scientific beliefs continue to guide family relationships during early childhood.

Parents are encouraged not to comfort or nurture young children because Hubbard believed children are small adults, able to think and fend for themselves from a very early age.

For example, a child who falls and hurts himself is taken to the place where he was hurt and the injury is pressed against the object that caused it. It is believed the pain can be made to flow back into the object.

"That's called a contact assist," Teresa Summers said. "There is also a fever assist. We were discouraged from seeking medical help or giving medication, even Tylenol, to bring down a fever.

"Instead, you get the child to hold an object still. That's supposed to bring down the fever. When it doesn't work, it's because you aren't doing it right or didn't repeat it often enough. I tried it on my child. Naturally, it didn't work."

Some parents who left Scientology also report they neglected their children because they were kept too busy with church programs, instruction and work. They had little time left for child care, they said.

Scientologists are actively encouraged to raise their children in the Church of Scientology and not among what are derisively called "wogs" - people outside Scientology - or as Hubbard defined them, "common, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety humanoids."

A recruitment flier for Scientology schools warning against state education, says: "If you turn your kids over to the enemy all day for 12 to 15 years, which side do you think they will come out on?"

The schools use a dubious device called a "learning accelerator," which is similar to the "E-meter" - a type of lie-detector device - used by adults.

The E-meter and "learning accelerator" detect small amounts of electronic resistance. The subject holds two electrodes and answers questions while trying to get the measuring needle to balance or "float" to indicate an honest answer.

A DOCUMENT obtained by the Post contains an insidious, guilt-inducing 60-question test designed by Hubbard for children as young as 6.

The questions include: "What has somebody told you not to tell," "Have you ever spoiled things for people," "Have you ever done anything you shouldn't when you were supposed to be asleep," and "Have you ever tried to make others believe that your parents or teachers were cruel to you?"

Teresa Summers also claimed that children are routinely asked to spy on one another and are subjected to grueling punishments.

"It's called making amends, and it can be anything - my daughter was made to scrub poles, paint walls, report on her friends. I let her do all that," she said.

If Cruise and Kidman face off over Scientology's controversial practices, they won't be the first celebrities to do so. Others include O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark and movie actor Tom Berenger.

Clark's successful battle with her ex-husband, computer programmer Gordon Clark, coincided with the opening of the Simpson trial.

In 1997, "Platoon" star Berenger, 51, claimed in his divorce battle with ex-wife Lisa that she was brainwashed by Scientology and had become "so involved and mentally entrenched in Scientology that she abandoned me."

Among his stipulations was that their children, Chelsea, now 13, Chloe, 12, and Shiloh, 5, should not be raised in Scientology.

Neither Berenger nor Clark returned calls.

The Church of Scientology International was reticent to discuss its child-care practices.

Janet Weiland, a minister who also acts as a spokeswoman, refused to discuss how child care in Scientology differed from that in the rest of society.

"You're talking about something directly related to what is happening right now with two of our parishioners," she said. "We won't discuss it."

Pat Kingsley, spokeswoman for Cruise, has downplayed the role Scientology played in the breakup. But friends of Cruise said Kidman's decision to distance herself from the church did not sit well with him or Scientology's leaders.

Cruise is a close friend of church president Heber Jantzsch.

"Tom takes his religion very seriously," said a producer who worked on "Mission: Impossible." "It could not have been easy for him to see Nicole treat Scientology like just one more dish in a religious smorgasbord."

Further proof of Cruise's dedication to his religion was provided by London's Daily Mail. That paper reported Cruise became enraged when Kidman and actor Mel Gibson teased him about Scientology at a party in Sydney, Australia.

Cruise "lost his cool completely," a witness told the Mail, but Gibson would not stop making fun of Cruise and giggling at his temper tantrum.

Hawaii-born, Australia-bred Kidman was raised a Catholic.

During the past few years, she has made several on-the-record statements indicating she still regards herself as a Catholic, despite having flirted with other denominations over the years.

Connor and Isabella Jane are enrolled in elite parochial schools in an affluent suburb of Sydney.


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