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16 December 2003
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House rejects commending drug treatment center with Scientology ties

Journal Record Legislative Report (Oklahoma City, OK)
May 2, 2003

BY Ray Carter

In an unusual move, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives rejected a resolution Thursday commending the work of a drug treatment facility because of its ties to Scientology.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 29, by Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, and Rep. Terry Harrison, D-McAlester, commended the Narconon Arrowhead facility in Pittsburg County for its commitment to the eradication of substance abuse.

However, several lawmakers objected to adopting the resolution due to Narconon's ties to Scientology, a controversial religious system founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard that incorporates elements of psychotherapy. Many people consider Scientology a cult.

"This is a faith-based organization," said Rep. Bill Paulk, D-Oklahoma City. "When you start mixing religion and politics you get into this. You've got to a situation where you are advancing a bill that I find objectionable because of my faith."

Narconon has been operating a 230-bed drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center in McAlester since 1992, when Narconon purchased the Arrowhead Lodge in Pittsburg County. The group spent $5.5 million on the purchase and renovation of the facility and the organization has since spent more than $20 million on its operations in Oklahoma.

Narconon plans to expand its treatment program and add four buildings in Pittsburg County in the next three years at a cost of up to $12 million.

The center has treated more than 2,600 individuals since its opening. Treatment at the facility costs up to $20,000, officials said.

Supporters of the resolution noted that no state money went to the Narconon program and suggested the facility should be recognized by state lawmakers for its success in treating addiction and its impact on the economy of Pittsburg County.

"Whoever this company is owned by is really immaterial," said Rep. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne. "This company has come into Pittsburg County, has provided jobs to the people in the state of Oklahoma and Pittsburg County to help people that live all over the United States to overcome drug and alcohol addiction."

Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, noted that many convicts have drug and alcohol problems that led to their incarceration, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Any program that reduces the impact of addiction on society should be praised, he said.

"It doesn't make any difference who owns that program down there, who runs it, because it is affecting people in a very positive way," Lindley said.

The Oklahoma City Democrat said he was "ashamed" House members would debate adoption of a resolution praising a drug treatment center.

"I know that a lot of members are angry that it is the Church of Scientology, but if we were talking about a program that was run by the Baptist Church or the Catholic Church or another church group, would we be doing this?" Lindley asked.

Rep. Ray Miller, D-Quinton, said the Pittsburg County facility has treated people from 30 counties and been funded by private money, including donations from prominent Scientologists such as actor John Travolta.

"In fact, I believe it was John Travolta that wrote them a check that was so large none of the banks there in Pittsburg County could cash it," Miller said. "It caused quite a stir around there."

The recidivism rate of addicts treated at the Narconon center is less than 20 percent, compared to a 60 percent recidivism rate for patients treated through most other programs, he said.

Opponents said their opposition had nothing to do with the success rate of treatment given by Narconon officials.

"I won't argue with the fact that they spent a lot of money in the state of Oklahoma. I can't argue the fact that there have been lives that have been changed," Paulk said. "But I can argue the fact that I don't want my name as supporting the Church of Scientology."

Although most resolutions are adopted easily on a voice vote with all House members made co-authors, Senate Concurrent Resolution 29 failed adoption on a 43-50 vote. Seven Democrats joined 43 Republicans in opposing the resolution.