Gimme that high-tech religion

Last month, a new series of “high-tech career nights” kicked off in Silicon Valley with an unlikely sponsor: the Church of Scientology.

The church’s Palo Alto, Calf.-based mission started hosting the lecture series in early August, featuring Scientologists prominent in the technology field. Critics say the church is trying to sucker unsuspecting job hunters into joining what many have labeled a cult, but a spokesman for the Scientologists said the group is just trying to provide an educational service to its technology-minded neighbors.

At the first event, Craig Jensen, chairman and chief executive officer of Executive Software, talked about how Scientology had helped him to find success in business, said church spokesman Mark Warlick.

Carol Montgomery-Adams, vice-president of customer loyalty for the Sun-Netscape alliance, spoke recently at the second church-sponsored “career night.” According to a company spokesperson, Montgomery-Adams spoke only about her career and made no mention of Scientology, although she is a practicing member of the church.

“Carol’s talk last week had nothing to do with religion,” said Sun-Netscape Alliance spokeswoman Mary Camarata. “She was just sharing her career story at a career night in response to a personal invitation.” The Palo Alto mission began promoting the career nights by passing out flyers and mailing some 15,000 invitations to a random list of residences in neighboring Sunnyvale.

Warlick said Montgomery-Adams’ speech was attended by church members as well as people just interested in what she had to say, but denies the career night was intended to attract new members.

“If people find out about the church (by attending), great. But was it a seminar about finding out about the church? No,” Warlick said.

One recipient of the invitation wasn’t convinced.

“The Scientologists have been using deceptive recruitment since I first encountered them as a college student, when they offered ‘personality tests’ to students and others around college or university campuses,” wrote Catherine Hampton in an e-mail interview.

Hampton, once a member of the International Churches of Christ, calls the Church of Scientology a similarly “dangerous and unethical cult” and has been using her Web site to warn others away from the lectures. “It was the first time I’ve received what looked like a normal advertising postcard for a Silicon Valley professional event, but which wasn’t from a professional association. It represented what I suspect is a new type of deceptive recruitment.”

The wags at U.K.-based satire site showed their amusement by suggesting as a new tag line for Sun Microsystems Inc., “We put the dot in L. Ron Hubbard.”