And they don’t need Tom Cruise to do it.
A year ago last fall, I scanned the first page of a glossy teacher’s guide, part of a free educator’s kit sent to me (at my request) from Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), an organization I had discovered in an online search for some teaching materials on human rights for my classes. On that first page was a list of well-known human rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and L. Ron Hubbard.
My eyes rested on that last one. I asked myself, why is the founder of the Church of Scientology included on a list of human rights leaders? Nelson Mandela and the others I could understand, but L. Ron Hubbard?
I questioned Hubbard’s name because I knew a little about the Church of Scientology. I had read “The Apostate” by Hollywood director, screenwriter and former Scientologist Paul Haggis in The New Yorker. I had read former Scientologist Amy Scobee’s Scientology: Abuse at the Top. I had also watched HBO’s documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Out of curiosity, I had even read a Scientology text from my local library that, had I been a lost soul looking for some easy — and expensive — answers, would have been convincing; however, for all its ostentatiousness and extremely happy people holding e-meters, the text felt empty and false.
With all the media attention focused on the Church of Scientology, it’s easy to conclude Hubbard’s “church” is no religion at all, but rather a dangerous money-making cult that uses Tom Cruise and other celebrities, its 501(c)(3) status, and hyperbole to convince its followers that it’s a major force for good in the world. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
But that day last fall at school, I was in a hurry to get my classroom put together, so I cast from my mind Hubbard’s name on that list of human rights notables. I looked through the rest of the educator’s kit: lesson plans, a set of thirty professionally-photographed human rights posters, a class set of booklets that explain each of the thirty rights, plus a well-produced DVD that discusses the Cyrus Cylinder, Natural Law, the American and French Revolutions and other global watershed moments in human rights. I filed the DVD away, laminated the posters and hung them on a wall of my classroom, and then shelved the booklets, which would be used later when my eighth-grade students would start connecting the literature we read to human rights.
Then over the next few months, I watched “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” the actress’ documentary series on A&E. Alongside consultant and former Scientologist Mike Rinder, Remini exposes The Church of Scientology’s abuses, violence, and inhumane practices through interviews with former “parishioners” now disconnected from the group.
During one episode of Remini’s series, I learned about the many front organizations the Church of Scientology uses to gain credibility. And that was my lightbulb moment: Youth for Human Rights International must be one of those front organizations, I thought. That’s why Hubbard’s name was on that list. A few minutes of online searching confirmed my suspicion.
Indeed, the Church of Scientology doesn’t make it obvious that it’s the force behind YHRI. Visit the YHRI website and you’ll find no connection to Scientology; however, visit Scientology.org, and you’ll find numerous mentions of YHRI, its partner front United for Human Rights, and a heavy dose of grandiose language extolling the progress being made globally by the Church of Scientology to advance human rights.
On Scientology.org, you’ll also find lots of United Nations name-dropping. Clearly, it enhances the cult’s image to rub shoulders with the UN, but it baffles me why the United Nations would align itself with the Church of Scientology. Here’s a link on the UN’s website to its annual International Human Rights Summit held last August at its New York City headquarters. According to the article, student attendees spent day three of the summit at the Church of Scientology Harlem Community Center, which is right next door to the Harlem Main Church. The UN summit was co-organized by the permanent UN missions in Cambodia and Panama and YHRI, which has been a co-sponsor of the summit since its inception fourteen years ago.
Based on the alliance with the UN, many people likely assume YHRI is a reputable, forthright group worthy to publicize in public school classrooms. Heck, that’s what I assumed.
However, there are several human rights that the Church of Scientology violates, which discredit its claim of being a leader in the field of human rights. I’m not an expert on the Church of Scientology, but if one reads even a moderate amount on the cult, you’ll discover many questionable, unethical activities. For now, here are three that I’m aware of: 1) the cult’s Rehabilitation Project Force, a forced-labor camp where cult followers are imprisoned to perform hard labor to compensate for violations they have allegedly committed; 2) the cult’s disconnection policy, which requires followers to separate themselves from friends and family members who criticize the Church of Scientology, and 3) the documented charges of physical violence and assault by David Miscavige, the Church of Scientology’s Ecclesiastical Leader, and other higher-ups.
To be honest, human rights violations or not, when a cult is making inroads into American schools — even though that inroad, human rights, may be innocuous and noble — it’s unacceptable and dangerous.
So, parents and teachers, please know that if you or your child’s teacher discusses human rights, do not consult Youth for Human Rights International or United for Human Rights because if you do, you will actually be consulting the Church of Scientology.
There are reputable organizations out there ready to provide teachers with classroom-ready, cult-free materials. I’ll discuss some alternatives in an upcoming post.