Anti-psychiatry exhibit OKd; Scientology-tied display revived
After conferring with state lawyers, the Blagojevich administration reversed itself Monday and said it no longer thought a controversial Scientology-linked exhibit blasting psychiatry promoted a religious philosophy and would therefore allow the exhibit to be displayed next month in the Thompson Center.
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The decision comes less than a week after the agency that oversees operations at the Thompson Center kicked the “Destroying Lives: Psychiatry Exposed” display out of the first-floor atrium. Officials with the Department of Central Management Services said the exhibit promoted the Church of Scientology, which in 1969 founded the organization that set up the display, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.
State rules forbid religious groups from renting display space in state buildings to promote their beliefs.
Officials with the national headquarters of the Citizens Commission appealed the decision. After reviewing the display, as well as the materials the organization handed out to the public, Central Management attorneys determined the exhibit did not promote Scientology.
Marla Filidei, international vice president of the Citizens Commission, said the state’s flip-flop was a victory for 1st Amendment rights.
“We were prepared to go as far as need be to ensure that justice was done in this case,” she said. “The state was very misguided in its initial decision. The exhibit is what it portrays itself to be and nothing more than that.”
The exhibit is expected to return to the Thompson Center for a week, beginning Jan. 5, Central Management spokeswoman Pam Davies said.
Less than 24 hours after the exhibit was erected last week, Central Management Director Michael Rumman ordered it removed. The large, museumlike exhibit attacked psychiatry as a wicked profession with links to Nazi Germany. It features blown-up photographs of what is alleged to be patients being abused, including undergoing electroshock treatment, and charged that psychiatrists have frequently abused their power and subjected patients to unsafe experiments or medical procedures.
The display made only scant reference to the group’s ties to Scientology, considered a religion by its followers. Critics contend it is a cultlike organization.
While criticism of psychiatry is a critical aspect of Scientology’s belief structure, the state agency’s attorneys concluded the display did not have religious overtones.
The same display has been located outside the state Capitol in New Hampshire, inside Georgia’s Capitol and in a state office building in New York, Filidei said.
Despite the about-face, Davies said she did not think the state’s decision last week was hurried.
“We really don’t think it was hasty, particularly because within hours after the exhibit went up we had an incident in which security had to be called,” Davies said. She said someone last week tried to disassemble the display and throw away pamphlets the group was handing out.
Still, Davies said the state plans to change procedures for future applicants who wish to rent space in state buildings by asking them to disclose any connections to religious organizations. Had that requirement been in place, she said, the Citizens Commission exhibit would have been allowed but the state would have known about the group’s ties to Scientology and been able to study the display before it was erected.
Although the state will allow the group to bring the exhibit back, it is requiring the organization to pay $1,650, in addition to rental space expenses, to cover the cost of having a security guard.
The state also maintains that when the Citizens Commission first sought to rent the atrium space, it did not fully disclose its affiliation to Scientology or fully describe the nature of the display. The state contends that the group described the exhibition as a “history of psychiatry” in its application.
Officials with the American Psychiatric Association have said the group’s attacks on the profession are not based on scientific facts.
Filidei insisted her organization can document its charges. “The public has the right to see information that the vested interests in the mental health industry don’t want them to see,” she said.