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Media Articles - 1990s

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15 December 2002
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Wrong messenger for drug education

By Catherine Clark

Natick TAB
August 4, 1998

Are parents so terrified of drugs that they will allow literally anyone into the classroom or summer camp to speak to their kids?

This was my question when I saw my local newspaper July 24. A press release entilited "YMCA Camp hears anti-drug message" boasted that the message had been delivered by a "drug prevention specialist" from a group called Narconon.

The name Narconon (trademarked and copyrighted) sounds an awful lot like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. But Narconon is not associated with these groups. Readers may be surprised to know it is closely affiliated with the Church of Scientology.

Scientologist and former "Cheers" star Kirstie Alley is Narconon's international spokeswoman. According to Boston Herald reporter Joseph Mallia in his March, 1998 article about Scientology's sneaking into Massachusetts schools, the church denies it controls Narconon, yet the scientifically dubious "Purification Rundown" by which Narconon claims to cure addiction and (wow!) even radiation sickness is a registered trademark, to be used only with Scientology's permission. Critics say that part of the money collected by Narconon goes in to the coffers of the Church of Scientology, which means their forays into public schools are clearly unconstitutional.

But I don't need to expose Narconon for what it is, since the author of the press release conveniently revealed that L. Ron Hubbard's book "Fundamentals of Thought" was the basis for the Narconon program. Hubbard, Scientology's founder, was a science fiction writer who, several court cases have confirmed, lied about his military history and his academic credentials. Narconon's claim in the Tribune that it has an "unparalleled reputation for successful treatment" - a treatment involving saunas and huge doses of niacin and cooking oil - is not confirmed by any generally recognized scientific or medical peer review journal.

My son has attended YMCA day cares and camps since 1989. This year, the Y has held "community building" courses in the Waltham public schools' sixth-grade classes. I have always trusted the Y to be responsible in its programming, which is supposed to be in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and I trust them to check their employees' references and do standard background checks to weed out child molesters and other dangerous individuals.

My sense of utter betrayal was the reason I shrieked at the poor receptionist on the day the article was printed that, had my child been at the Y when Scientology came to get personal details from him in the form of the "evaluations that are done after each presentation," to quote the July 24 press release, I would have acted to get that information back. To be more accurate, I yelled that I would have sued the Y, and I called them idiots. I try not to lose control, but I was flaming mad, and bitterly disappointed.

While it is possible that the Waltham Y simply took Narconon's word that it was a bona fide drug education program, this cannot excuse them. A spokeswoman for the Greater Boston YMCA told me Waltham Y director Jay Flannery assured her that "the speaker only told kids to stay off drugs." What they seem to be saying is that the message is more important than the messanger. This does not sit well with me.

It is apparent from a conversation I had with a parent of a camper that no permission slip was sent home to parents before their children went eyeball to eyeball with a "drug prevention specialist" from an organization closely linked to a wildly controversial religious group - one often termed a cult.

So the parents of children in Y camps in suburban Boston should not assume this is merely a Waltham problem.

Given that one of Narconon's claims to legitimacy in their press release seems to be the sheer numbers of young children to whom they have presented their course, they could well be setting up "drug prevention" lectures in Y facilities throughout the Commonwealth.

My son isn't at the Waltham Y at the moment - he is at one of their far-distant overnight camps - so I won't be calling any lawyers. But he won't go to the Waltham Y, nor will he participate in any more of their public school programs, until they publicly acknowledge this astonishing lapse in judgement. My son's mind is his most important possession; the Y has shown that it can't be trusted to be careful of his mental health.

Check out on the World Wide Web and then you won't have to take my word that Narconon is going into schools and camps without clearly revealing who and what they are, at the same time collecting a great deal of money and recruiting members to Scientology.