On occasion, the Church of Scientology has received well-scripted official support
Third of Four Parts [Part 1]
When the Church of Scientology held a splashy grand opening in Buffalo in November 2003, local Scientologists urged Mayor Anthony M. Masiello to declare “Church of Scientology of Buffalo Day.”
What’s more, the Scientologists wrote a speech for the mayor.
He delivered it.
In Buffalo and around the world, Scientology seeks legitimacy to counter allegations that it’s a cult.
And local lawmakers and other officials have been happy to oblige.
Consider that when the church’s Volunteer Minister Corps appeared at the Erie County Fair last summer, County Legislature Chairman George A. Holt Jr. issued a proclamation praising their work.
“Scientology is a very positive, productive Christian group in the community,” Holt explained later.
Scientology, however, is not a Christian religion, nor, as the name could imply, is it connected in any way to the Church of Christ, Scientist.
Holt also approved an anti-psychiatry display that was set up Jan. 24 on the ground floor of Old County Hall by a Scientology-linked group before Administrative Judge Sharon S. Townsend requested it be taken down to avoid influencing jurors.
And when Scientologists wanted to bring a controversial prison-based drug treatment program to Buffalo, a church patron paid to send two Erie County Holding Center officials to Mexico to observe it in action.
Superintendent H. McCarthy Gipson subsequently sought to introduce the Second Chance Program into the county jail at a potential taxpayer cost of $700,000. A budget shortfall put the project on hold.
Critics – including former members – contend Scientology is a predatory cult that threatens families and communities.
And, they say, Buffalo could be ripe for the plucking.
“If I were a citizen of Buffalo, I’d want to take a very, very hard look at this group in light of its worldwide reputation,” said Cynthia Kisser, former executive director of the Cult Awareness Network in Chicago. “There’s an agenda beneath the surface that may not bode well for the community at large.”
That view was shared by Stephen Kent, a sociologist at the University of Alberta, Canada, who has written extensively about Scientology and had praise for the network’s efforts at monitoring potentially harmful groups.
“The Scientologists’ strategy is to use officials in its legitimization efforts,” Kent said. “One wonders how much Buffalo officials knew about the organization they were endorsing.”
The church maintains it is the victim of religious bigotry – and accuses the original Cult Awareness Network, which Kisser was a part of, of being a “hate group.”
“Like all new ideas, Scientology has come under attack by the uninformed and those who feel that their vested interests are threatened,” said Teresa Reger, president of the Church of Scientology of Buffalo.
Beth Akiyama, a Scientologist spokeswoman, said it meant a lot to the church to have the mayor’s support.
“We share the mayor’s vision for this city and are working hard to achieve it,” Akiyama said.