News

Scientology-affiliated group makes waves in the Capitol

Members of a group affiliated with the Church of Scientology have been in
the Capitol, targeting Legislators with an interest in mental health issues.

Scientologists’ outspoken opinions on psychiatric drugs–and psychiatry in
general–have been in the news this year because of Tom Cruise’s televised
outbursts on the subject. However, members of the Citizens Commission on Human
Rights seem to have been downplaying the group’s affiliation with the Church
of Scientology, instead positioning themselves within a growing movement of
psychiatry skeptics outside of the Church.

The CCHR has been pushing for greater limits on the use of psychotropic
drugs, and they have gained traction with some legislators. A spokeswoman
for the CCHR, Cassandra Auerbach, was quoted in a press release last year
from Asm. Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia. Asm. Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, is shown
on the CCHR’s Web site performing a ribbon cutting for a display the group
ran in outside the Capitol last spring about what they see as the dangers of
psychiatry.

“What people have traditionally done is say that because they
[Scientologists] are involved, there’s no credibility there,” said Joelle
Cudney, a legislative assistant with Mountjoy. “But these people were the
only ones doing this originally. Now there’s a whole myriad of people who
don’t belong to the Church who are concerned about these issues.”

Assemblyman Haynes echoed some of Cudney’s comments, noting that the CCHR
came early to an issue that is now gaining wider prominence.

“I won’t attack psychiatrists, I don’t agree with their politics in the way
they present the debate,” Haynes said. “There are some folks for whom these
drugs have had significant and lasting benefit. I just think it should be
the treatment of last resort, not the treatment of first resort.”

Both Mountjoy and Haynes have family histories involving psychiatric drugs.
Cudney said Mountjoy’s young son was briefly forced onto Ritalin by his
school, turning him into “a zombie.” Haynes described a similar experience
with his nephew.

However, Randall Hagar, governmental affairs director of the California
Psychiatric Association, said he would like to see proof of these incidents.
According to his understanding, Hagar said, California schools do not have
the right to force students on to psychiatric drugs.

“They find someone to say ‘my kid was told that they had to take
psychotropics or they would be kicked out of school,'” Hagar said. “We need
to have those charges demonstrated. It’s a legitimate thing to ask.”

Cudney said that Mountjoy started putting forward bills on psychiatric drugs
before he had any contact with the CCHR. Most of these have been defeated,
something Mountjoy has blamed on “the Democratic majority.”

Among the defeated measures is Mountjoy’s AB 1424, which would have given
parents the right to refuse to allow their children to be put on psychiatric
medication. Auerbach, who has been a Church member since 1969, was quoted in
a press release from Mountjoy’s office supporting AB 1424 in her role as a
representative for CCHR Los Angeles. Auerbach did not reply to several
requests for comment on this article.

More recently, Auerbach and at least one other CCHR member were in the
Capitol talking to staffers about SB 524, which stalled on the Assembly
floor earlier this year. This bill would have mandated ongoing education for
psychiatrists and other physicians who prescribe anti-depressants. According
to their Web site, one of the CCHR’s principal issues is the alleged link
between psychiatric drugs and suicide.

The CCHR was founded by the Church of Scientology, but became financially
independent in 1993. According to Jeff Griffin, the executive director of
CCHR Los Angeles, the group closely coordinates all of their efforts with
the Social Reform Offices of the Church of Scientology.

“We are not a lobbying group,” said Jeff Griffin, executive director of CCHR
Los Angeles. “We spend the majority of our funds distributing information
and helping those who have been abused.”

Some CCHR members may have contact with legislators and staffers, Griffin
acknowledged. But he said this was not part of the group’s official
activities. “If someone wants to do something, that’s them doing it” [as an
individual].

Griffin said that his group is against “anything that would have forwarded
the activity of the mental health industry.” Most of the group’s literature
focuses on anti-depressant medication and the use of physical restraints in
psychiatry, a practice the CCHR claims is widespread. Griffin said his group
is not seeking a ban on psychiatry, acknowledging that if someone wants to
see a therapist, “that’s their right.”

“I’m skeptical of their financial motives, said Jason Young a spokesman for
the American Psychiatric Association, of the CCHR. “They pretty much offer a directly competing treatment, which is to join Scientology.”

But some who have dealt with the CCHR say it is a successful alternative for
many. Conservative activist Steve Frank did work for both the Church of
Scientology and the CCHR between 1989 and 1996 during his career as a
Sacramento lobbyist. He said several of the people he met in the church had
histories of substance abuse or family tragedy. This view was echoed by
another lobbyist, lobbyist D.J. Smith, partner in the Sacramento firm Smith
Watson Co., who the Church retained for six months in 2003 to deal with a
traffic issue near their property.

In other words, both said, many members had the kinds of histories you often
hear about from people in the criminal justice or mental health systems.
“Religion in general has people who have found redemption from their pasts,
regardless of whether it’s Scientology, Catholicism or Lutheranism,” Frank
said. “Better that they do it in a church than through a bottle or drugs.”


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