Scientologist bid to recruit students
The Mirror (Ireland)
December 8, 2002
CULT members posing as health workers have been targeting students at University College Dublin in a membership drive.
The controversial Church of Scientology has been using anti-drug pamphlets in a bid to open contact with thousands of potential members.
The leaflets, delivered to the students' union of University College Dublin, all have contact numbers for cult members printed on them.
The students' union was later contacted several times by Church of Scientology members, urging them to take more pamphlets.
Last night UCD said it refused to hand out the information once it realised the religious sect was behind the campaign.
The Church of Scientology, started in Los Angeles in 1954 by writer L Ron Hubbard, has long been accused of being crackpot and dangerous.
Critics claim it uses unorthodox techniques and is simply a money making organisation.
UCD student welfare officer, Seamus O'Maonaigh, said the "no to drugs" leaflets were misleading.
He added: "I thought they were health workers. They gave me some leaflets and tried to ring the college many times afterwards.
"The information printed was misleading. It stated that the use of drugs such as cannabis could lead to prostitution and down and out lifestyles.
"The leaflet gave numbers for Scientologists. Once I discovered the information was misleading none of the promotional material was given to students."
The Church of Scientology repeatedly phoned Mr O'Maonaigh, who represents more than 19,000 students in UCD.
He said: "They left many messages on my answering machine wanting to know would I take more leaflets.
"I didn't actually know the booklets were scientology until a journalist pointed it out in my office."
Entitled "Drugs: The truth about joints!" the information pamphlet is 16-pages long and contains US statistics.
The grey and black leaflet says the information is "written for parents, adolescents and children to inform them of the true nature of a 'joint'".
It claims that Scientologists are drug-free and must teach others how to be the same.
It adds: "Having achieved this freedom as a result of the discoveries of L Ron Hubbard [the man who invented the religion] Scientologists are acutely aware of their responsibility to help free others from the scourge of drugs."
Mr O'Maonaigh said he regrets taking the leaflets because they were misleading.
He added: "I threw them in the trash once I realised they were suggestive in a false nature." He said the leaflets claimed to be giving health and welfare information but were instead an invitation to join a controversial group.
He added: "One page in the Scientologists' booklet states: 'In truth, soft drugs do not exist, so a large number of joint smokers end up with a needle in their arm for new sensations.'
"People can get over cannabis. I would be horrified if teenagers are getting the wrong information.
"You don't have to go to these people. The student unions can give you information on this issue."
Health and parenting officials, however, are worried students were being targeted for recruitment by the scientologists group for reasons other than anti-drugs awareness campaigns.
Olivia Mitchell TD, Fine Gael health spokeswoman, said young people, especially those starting college for the first time, need to be vigilant about alternative religious groups.
She added: "People with a hidden agenda can play havoc with young minds. Kids in their first few months in college are so susceptible.
"Vulnerable drug-users and even those worried about drug use should contact their GP or official help groups. It's scary. We know nothing about how this group claim to treat people with drug problems."
The booklet says the Church of Scientology can help users come off drugs.
The leaflet states: "Learn more about the discoveries of L Ron Hubbard and his workable technologies that get people off drugs."
National Parents Council President Michael O'Regan yesterday insisted that Education Minister Noel Dempsey must now ensure children - at both primary and secondary school level - are made aware of alternative religious organisations.
He said: "Parents will be very worried about this.
"What do the Scientologists want to achieve by this? Where is all the advice leading and who is on the other end of the phone?
"I certainly would advise children to keep away from them.
"University officers should be advising students about the groups. However, I believe that kids are not only being targeted in third level but second level as well. The issue will be on my agenda with the Minister when I meet him."
However, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology yesterday moved to calm fears about the Scientologists' campaign.
He said: "I don't see anything wrong with approaching student officers. We are strong on the anti-drugs messages.
"People can come into our church to get off drugs. The drugs programme is in a secular setting. The Narconan programme, which is mentioned in the
leaflet, is world renowned.
"People come out of themselves, and we use a system whereby they look beyond themselves at things like the trees and the sky.
"The purpose is to educate people about drugs. It's totally up to them if they like Scientology."
However, the spokesman admitted the pamphlets had two aims - firstly, to stop drug usage and secondly to promote Scientology.
One of the drug programmes used is "purification", to release drugs from the body's system.
This along with the other methods used in the Narconan programme are used in the Church of Scientology, the spokesman explained.
And he stressed that many officials in other countries had endorsed the campaign and in addition it had been a success in Ireland.
While Scientology has many critics, it also has high-profile followers.
Hollywood star such as John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kristie Alley and Mimi Rogers have endorsed the teachings of the Church of Scientology in recent years.
Travolta even went as far as to star in Battlefield Earth, which is based on Hubbard's self-declared prophet 1982 book.
The film was a flop at the box office.