Tom Cruise’s interview in June 2005 with Matt Lauer of the “Today” show, in which the actor criticized Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants, was fodder for plenty of late-night comedy. But it also exposed the Church of Scientology’s hostility toward the practice of psychiatry, which Cruise, a Scientologist, labeled a pseudoscience.
Now, the St. Louis chapter of an organization founded by the Church of Scientology is hosting an exhibit at the Missouri State Capitol that claims psychiatry is responsible for events such as the Holocaust and the Columbine shootings.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted at What judges have to say about Scientology
The interactive exhibit, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death,” in the Capitol rotunda features 14 documentaries that can be viewed on eight video stations on large color panels. Visitors are given a DVD of the exhibit with a supplementary magazine, both of which have a blood-soaked wad of cash, set against a background of graves, on their covers.
The magazine details what the group calls “Psychiatry’s Destructive Agenda.”
The exhibit is sponsored by the St. Louis Chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which says that as a young science, psychiatry was the inspiration for racial hygiene and eventually inspired Adolph Hitler.
The commission also claims that psychiatry has benefitted from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, which it says acted to “forward their drug-pushing agenda.” Bernard Beitman, chair of MU’s psychiatry department, has heard this claim before. “They say we kill people, they say we are responsible for 9/11,” Beitman said. “I don’t even know how to respond to such an exaggeration.”
The St. Louis Chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights was founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969. Jeff Griffin, executive director of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights for the Western United States, who calls himself a Baptist minister and a Scientologist, said the church plays a major role in the commission’s activities. “The Church has a tremendous reputation around the world in the area of human rights,” he said.
However, some local psychiatrists are upset and offended at the exhibit, which they say is purposely filled with misinformation and is a danger to psychiatric patients. Beitman says putting such an exhibit in a public building is a mistake.
“This is not a matter of debate. It’s not one of those things that is a difference of opinion,” Beitman said. “It should not be there. It’s like saying child abuse is just another opinion.”
This is the second time the exhibit has come to the Missouri capitol building, according to Griffin, who is based in the commission’s national headquarters in Los Angeles. The exhibit, which takes more than three hours to set up, has been touring the country since August. Griffin said more than 100 people viewed it on Thursday. The exhibit will also be on display today before leaving for Colorado, where it will be on display a block away from the capitol building in Denver. “Our chapters are clamoring for it,” Griffin said.
The political significance of exhibiting in or near state capitols is not lost on psychiatrists.
“They didn’t set up in St. Louis, or Kansas City,” Beitman said. “There’s only one reason to go to the capitol, and that’s to undercut legislation.”
Griffin says he agrees. While he acknowledges that there is no pending legislation in Missouri that the commission has an interest in, the goal of the exhibit has always been to influence lawmakers.
“Why not go to the Capitol? Why wouldn’t that be the ideal venue?” Griffin said. “Our legislators are the ones who need this information.”
The Office of Administration is in charge of approving uses of public areas in the Capitol. Those interested in using space are asked to fill out a one-page application, in which applicants must agree to follow certain rules, such as not dancing or putting tape on the walls. The content for displays at the Capitol is not screened for political correctness or ideological views, said Richard AuBuchon, the office’s deputy commissioner.
“Employees for the Office of Administration do not review displays or approve the content of a particular display,” AuBuchon said in an e-mail. “Essentially, the present procedure is a scheduling mechanism only.”
Melissa Hutchens, a resident in psychiatry at University Hospital, said she is afraid the display will frighten people who need psychiatric help and discourage them from seeking it.
“It worries me because mental illness already has so much stigma,” said Hutchens. “I know it’s hard for patients and their families, whether they are open about their illness or not.”
Hutchens said she supports “free speech” and isn’t asking that the exhibit be removed from the Capitol. However, she and several other psychiatry residents plan to visit the display today to learn more about the commission’s view of the profession.
“I know it has a negative impact on patients,” Hutchens said. “We are going to go see what it’s about and be present as psychiatrists to learn what’s out there and be positive representatives of our field.”