Department of Homeland Security Staffer Pulls Out of Scientology Event

The Church of Scientology of Washington State is hosting an "evening discussion on human rights" at its Seattle headquarters on Wednesday, and until today, a Department of Homeland Security official was scheduled to participate.

What Scientologists say "discussion on human rights," they mean a venomous rant against psychiatrists and anyone else who would prevent the cult from acquiring wealth, new recruits, and power. Which is why we thought it was weird when we read on exiled church leader Marty Rathbun's web site that Kareem Shora, a senior policy adviser in the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties would be speaking at a Scientology-sponsored event called "Know Your Human Rights!" Also on the bill are two Washington state legislators.

According to this event listing on the Queen Anne's County Chamber of Commerce web site, the three-hour event will take place at 300 W. Harrison St. in Seattle, which happens to be the address of the church's state headquarters.

When we contacted DHS to confirm the engagement, and inquire as to why it would be dispatching a federal employee to address an event sponsored by an organization that's the current target of an FBI human trafficking investigation, a spokesman told us in a statement that Shora would not, in fact, be attending. He also seemed to suggest that the invitation was misleading, claiming that it had been extended not by the Church of Scientology but by a group called Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster:

The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties routinely engages various communities to enhance dialogue around a variety of topics. In this instance, a CRCL speaker was invited to attend an event sponsored by the private-sector Washington Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) to describe CRCL's work on civil rights issues that arise during disaster response and recovery, and in other arenas. The invited speaker will not be attending the event. Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters are voluntary/faith-based organizations that have unique experiences and capabilities when it comes to disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

So how did DHS confuse a Scientology invite with a WVOAD invite? Maybe because the president of WVOAD is one David Scattergood of "Church of Scientology Disaster Response." The Washington Church of Scientology did not return phone messages.

UPDATE: Ann Pearce, the director of public affairs for the Church of Scientology of Washington, called us back to say that Shora pulled out due to a "scheduling conflict" and that he was well aware that it was a Scientology event from the get-go. "The invitation was extended by a Scientology parishioner and the event is being held at a Scientology facility," she said. "This was clearly a Scientology event and Kareem knew it. He told us this morning that he had an unavoidable scheduling conflict." For the record, Pearce disputes reports that the church is under investigation for human trafficking. "You have false information," she said.