minister John Howard announced publicly Tuesday that he
"did not have a problem" with the rabidly
antigay sect the Exclusive Brethren, the Sydney
Morning Herald reported. The prime
minister confirmed that he had met with leaders of the
Exclusive Brethren, who have been substantial donors
to his political party in Australia since the federal
election in 2004.
"Yes, I've met with people from
the Exclusive Brethren," Howard said.
"It's a free country. They are not breaking
the law, [and] like any other group, they are entitled
to put their views to the government."
The prime minister's comments oppose
almost every story filed about the Exclusive Brethren
in the Australian media and follow a scathing
investigative report that aired this week on the Australian
Broadcasting Corp.'s Four Corners program.
The hour-long report, titled "Separate Lives,"
depicted "life inside the secretive and
puritanical Brethren Sect and the heartrending price
extracted from those who leave."
Despite widespread anecdotal evidence of
inappropriate methods practiced by the sect, including
hiring two private investigators who claim the
Brethren paid them to "dig up dirt" on New
Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and her
husband's sex life (which led to allegations being
published in a right-wing publication), Howard said he did
not have a problem with the group.
"We don't [run] a police state in
this country, and unless people are an unlawful
organization, they are entitled to meet with the
government," the prime minister said.
themselves to be the flag-bearers of family values,
Exclusive Brethren members refuse to socialize with anyone
outside the sect, including close relatives,
purposefully separating themselves from a world they
see as morally corrupt.
Disobedience of internal rules, even
unsubstantiated, can lead to excommunication, or being
"withdrawn from," and complete, permanent
isolation from loved ones.
"You cannot understand the horrific
mistreatment of people," a former member said
of life inside the sect.
also alleged on the Four Corners program that
large sums of cash have been transported by members across
international borders and accused the group of hushing
up child abuse.
While the exact
figures of the sect's spending to prevent same-sex
marriage and civil unions while promoting conservative
policies in Australia is still unknown, the Brethren
spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during the U.S.
elections in 2004, buying ads backing President Bush
and U.S. Senate candidate Mel Martinez, who is opposed to
same-sex marriage and who won his Florida race.
The sect also
spent almost another million in an attempt to quash
candidates supporting gay rights in the last New Zealand
election (namely the Greens).
Following that election, they then spent a
considerable amount of money equating a vote for the
Greens with a vote for same-sex marriage in March
elections in the Australian state of Tasmania.
Australia's federal government--on Howard's strong
urging--overturned a law passed in Australia's Capital
Territory to legalize same-sex unions.
When asked about
the cult's activities, Howard told reporters,
"I've met a lot more fanatical people in
my life than the Exclusive Brethren." (Cath