Sponsor of Drug-Free Rally Catches Some Unawares;
Cabinet Member Says He Didn't Know of Scientology Link, but Backs Event's Goal for Youth
The Washington Post
August 10, 1993
While a battery of television news cameras rolled, White House drug policy director Lee P. Brown raised his right hand and, along with 50 District children, pledged yesterday to work as a "drug-free marshal" fighting addiction across America.
But what looked like an innocuous pep rally was sponsored by the Church of Scientology, the controversial self-improvement organization founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and the subject of numerous criminal
Brown later said he discovered the Scientology connection only after he stepped to the stage at First Baptist Church on Randolph Street NW. He said he had known only that the U.S. Marshals Service was involved with the program, and indeed, Herbert Rutherford III, the U.S. marshal for the District, was there yesterday gravely administering the "drug-free pledge" to the children.
Brown indicated that he would have taken part nonetheless.
"Anything that [can] be done to minimize the number of youths who are involved in drugs we want to be involved in," he said.
Rutherford said he knew of the Scientology backing. "I have allied myself with an issue. . . . I take no political stance with the organization."
In recent months, officials of the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI, and local legislators, mayors and police chiefs have accepted invitations to Scientology-sponsored "drug-free marshals" ceremonies in nearly a dozen U.S. cities.
Scientologists say the ceremonies are simply a community service. But critics say the Church of Scientology stages events such as these to involve unsuspecting celebrities and government officials whose presence helps lend legitimacy to an organization fighting to overcome its image as a cult.
"The Church of Scientology has always spent a lot of time and money on public relations efforts . . . to counter much of the negative publicity about them that has been generated by serious news stories," said Cynthia Kisser, executive director of the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network. "These photographs of Brown blessing their activities will show up later in their brochures."
Brown, a member of President Clinton's Cabinet, is the most senior public official yet to participate.
Also attending was Maude Holt, administrator of the District's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration.
Scientology representatives handed out press packets with bound copies of what were labeled "endorsements" -- letters applauding the youth marshals from President Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Calif.), among others.
The Church of Scientology, frequently under investigation by the government, says it has more than 700 centers in 65 countries. In the early 1980s, 11 of its top officials were sent to prison for infiltrating and burglarizing more than 100 government and private agencies. Last year, the Toronto branch was convicted of planting spies in Canadian government offices.
Through its affiliate, Narconon, Scientology has long promoted its approach to ending drug abuse. "We ourselves are a 100 percent drug-free congregation," said Mike Menkhaus, coordinator of the church's "Lead the Way to a Drug-Free USA" campaign.
Sylvia Stanard, public affairs director for the Church of Scientology International, said the group has interested several schools in its drug-free marshals program. "There's so much need out there," Stanard said, "that nobody says, 'Who are you?' They say, 'Come on in. Here's the door.'"
At yesterday's event, children wore six-pointed gold pins that said "Drug-Free Marshal" on the front and "Church of Scientology International" on a sticker on the back. The children were drawn from several youth programs in the District.
Devonna Shields, youth development leader at the Columbia Heights Youth Club, said her group was enthusiastic about writing essays and drawing pictures for what she was told was an anti-drug contest. Asked whether she knew the Church of Scientology was the sponsor, she said she had never heard of the church.
One children's program director expressed discomfort with the association. "It doesn't mean that we support all their philosophies," whispered Tracy Hines, of Martha's Table, before the program began.
After the ceremony, Ahmad Elkarim, 8, of the Barney Neighborhood House, pointed to his pin and said, "I'm gonna wear it for the rest of my life."