An anti-drug program rooted in Scientology entered at least 30 New York City public schools last year, according to DNAinfo. Even though that program, the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, advertises itself as a rather innocuous “non-profit public benefit corporation,” in reality it is a church-sponsored project.
The city’s Department of Education says there is no official partnership with either the program or Scientology, but photos on the foundation’s public Facebook page show its staff offering presentations to students. DNAinfo also reports that the foundation works directly with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and conducts training for officers assigned to public school safety. The NYPD offered no comment to the news website.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Scientology has entered public schools under the guise of secular drug education and prevention. Last year, foundation staff spoke to schools in five Tennessee counties; at the time, Scientology’s state leadership claimed that foundation materials aren’t based on doctrine.
“The Truth about Drugs initiative is its own campaign,” a church spokeswoman told the Tennessean. “It has no religious message. It is entirely secular. The Church of Scientology’s role is we support the Truth About Drugs. We support getting this information out there. So we provide materials at no charge to anyone who wants Truth About Drugs materials. They don’t have anything religious in them.”Scientology officials made similar claims after a San Francisco Chronicle investigation reported that another Scientology-linked program, Narconon, had entered California public schools. Although Narconon and the foundation are technically separate entities, they are both sponsored by the church and share the same approach to drug education. In recent years, the programs have achieved significant international reach: The foundation has worked alongside Mexican authorities to combat the country’s vicious drug cartels. According to the church’s official magazine, the Mexican Red Cross even disseminates foundation materials.
But there’s nothing secular about either the foundation or Narconon.
CityLimits.org’s Robert Martin Wolfe reports that a Foundation presentation offered to NYC students drew explicitly from the works of Scientology founder and science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard.
“The concept of the human body storing lipid-soluble drugs for years comes from Clear Body, Clear Mind, a self-help book compiled from materials written by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology,” Wolfe wrote. “The book outlines a detoxification regimen used by a number of Scientology-funded groups, including Narconon.”
Hubbard’s teachings also include the erroneous assertion that “toxins” from drug use remain lodged in the body’s fat tissue and can reactivate at any time, thus triggering a relapse. There’s no scientific basis for this, as Wolfe correctly notes in his article. Rather, it’s doctrine: Hubbard’s self-help book is now considered dogma by Scientology adherents, and through the foundation and Narconon, the Church now promotes these religious teachings to public school students. That’s a First Amendment problem.
Revelations about the foundation’s presence in NYC public schools comes at an awkward time for the Church. “Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison of Belief,” an HBO documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s expose of the same name, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this month. Based on early reviews, the film (like Wright’s book) isn’t kind to the Church: It reports that dissenters are punished with hard labor, defectors shunned, and families regularly broken up as demanded by church leadership.
The FBI is currently investigating the church for human trafficking abuses. The church is also being sued by a former high-ranking member, who alleges that its leadership has conducted a years-long harassment campaign against him for leaving the fold.
Given these allegations and the obviously religious nature of the foundation’s work, the NYPD should immediately stop facilitating its presence in public schools. The Church of Scientology fought hard for its tax-exempt status. But if it’s going to call itself a religion, it has to obey the laws that restrict proselytizing in public schools.And that means no more public school presentations. It’s time for the church to be transparent about its sectarian motivations, and it’s time for officials, including the NYPD, to hold them accountable and stop allowing them access to students.