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Is Karen Bass A Scientologist? Why Joe Biden's Potential VP Praised The Fringe Religion

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Is Karen Bass A Scientologist?

It isn't easy to get on the shortlist of vice presidential candidates. However, it's very easy to come off that list once you're on it. That may be what Representative Karen Bass — one of Joe Biden's potential Vice President picks — is finding out this week after a video of her speaking at an event for the Church of Scientology surfaced last week.

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Bass, a California Congresswoman who has been in politics since she first won statewide office in 2004, has been rumored to be a top candidate on Joe Biden's list of potential running mates. Her history is certainly ideal: she was a health care professional and with a background in civil rights activism, both of which are big issues in the 2020 campaign. She was the first Black woman to be the Speaker of the California Assembly. She went on to Congress where she sits on committees overseeing foreign relations, another major issue this year.

But 10 years ago she spoke warmly of Scientology, a fringe faith with a dark reputation. That one video is raising questions about her own faith and if Scientology belongs in the White House.

Is Karen Bass a Scientologist?

Karen Bass praised the beliefs of Scientology in a video.

In the video, which is from 10 years ago, Bass could be seen giving a speech and offering warm sentiment toward the church. She praises the church and its controversial founder L. Ron Hubbard. "The Church of Scientology I know has made a difference because your creed is a universal creed and one that speaks to all people everywhere," Bass said in the video. "The words are exciting of your founder, L. Ron Hubbard, in The Creed of the Church of Scientology: that all people of whatever race, color or creed, are created with equal rights."

Bass praised Scientology in 2010.

Does Karen Bass claim to be a member of the Church of Scientology?

The profile of Bass on Roll Call, a newspaper that follows Congress, lists her religion as Baptist. Obviously, people can change religions over their lifetimes and it's possible that Bass has explored Scientology at some point in her life, even if she never publicly acknowledged the interest. If she has an affiliation with the Church of Scientology at this time, she's keeping it quiet. 

Would it be bad for a politician to be a Scientologist? 

Whether or not being a Scientologist and a politician is a good thing depends on who you ask. Church leadership would probably love nothing more than to have members of the religion in government positions. But mainstream politicians and political pundits would look askance at any relationship between a lawmaker and Scientology.

For one thing, Scientology has a very anti-government past, according to the book Going Clear by Lawrence Wright. The church operated from ships in international waters for years to avoid any kind of government oversight. Once they established a real presence in the United States, Scientology found ways to infiltrate the FBI to know in advance if they were ever being investigated for wrongdoing. The church waged a years-long battle to be granted tax-exempt status, all the while refusing to pay taxes they owed at the time.

And there have been lingering questions about the disappearance of Shelley Miscavige, the wife of David Miscavige, the head of Scientology. Shelley Miscavige hasn't been seen in public in many years and some people fear she has come to harm at the hands of Miscavige and his loyalists.

A tax-evading church that spies on its own government and disappears high-ranking members isn't exactly the kind of allegiance most politicians want to claim. And a lot of constituents would be alarmed to think a church like that had a hold over a lawmaker. 

Bass's district has a lot of Scientologists living there. 

Bass is from a district in Los Angeles, which is the epicenter of all things Scientology. The Celebrity Center is not far from Bass's home district and there are multiple churches, information centers, and administrative offices for the religion that are located around the city. In fact, Scientology is almost synonymous with Hollywood, since for many years the church has courted famous people to become members. In the past, high-profile members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta increased the perceived legitimacy of the church.  

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Karen Bass says the Scientology video was just a public appearance.

For her part, Bass is trying to distance herself from the fringe faith. She released a statement on the video after it surfaced and tried to assure the public that she had only been appearing there because it was a new church being opened in her Congressional district. “Ten years ago, I attended a new building opening in my district and spoke to what I think all of us believe in — respect for one another’s views, to treat all people with respect and to fight against oppression wherever we find it,” she said. “Since then, published first-hand accounts in books, interviews and documentaries have exposed this group. Everyone is now aware of the allegations against Scientology.”

It's not unusual for Members of Congress to attend events at all kinds of houses of worship in the region they represent, even those of religions they don't follow. 

Why would Bass risk speaking at a Scientology event?

As Bass remarked this weekend, in 2010, not as many people were tuned in to the strange practices of Scientology. At that time it was mainly known as Tom Cruise's religion. Bass and her team probably didn't see a downside to being part of a church ribbon cutting and if they knew that Scientology courted wealthy and famous people, they might have thought the event was ripe for building up their fundraising database. 

Is Karen Bass a Scientologist?

The short answer to that question is probably not. This video is the only evidence we've seen of any relationship between the Congresswoman and the Church of Scientology. And since the Church is always happy to brag about famous and powerful members, it seems likely they would let us all know if the could claim a Member of the U.S. House of representatives as one of their own. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.