Mayor-president says his relationship is with people, not beliefs
The Church of Scientology attracts attention with its familiar faces: Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley.
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Yes, the face of the mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish has appeared in Scientology publications, including one promoting the work of the church’s volunteer ministers in international disaster response.
However, don’t conclude that Holden counts himself among the disciples of the late L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction novelist who founded the faith based on the principles introduced in his self-help book, ‘Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.’
“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist,” Holden assured in a recent interview. The mayor-president, who worships at Greater King David Baptist Church on Blount Road, said he doesn’t have a relationship with the Church of Scientology so much as relationships with some Scientologists, Hollywood types such as Travolta who can help Holden help Baton Rouge.
“I have relationships with people of every religion and denomination,” the mayor-president said.
Holden’s entrée into Scientology circles began a few years ago while he was a state senator.
He was looking for ways to get more technology into Louisiana schools and those efforts included conversations with Cathilea Robinette, executive vice president of the Center for Digital Government and Center for Digital Education, research and advisory institutes in Folsom, Calif.
She suggested he attend Scientology’s annual celebrity gala to meet people who could help him with his goals, Holden said.
Scientology News magazine includes coverage of the 2004 gala with a photograph of Holden with Lisa-Marie Presley and Terry Smithson, an executive with Intel Corp.
Holden credits relationships he made there with securing a $40,000 donation to Prescott Middle School from the likes of Travolta; Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston; Isaac Hayes and Anne Archer.
Even with the attention brought by its celebrity faces, the Church of Scientology remains little understood.
Critics call it a cult, while its membership calls it a growing faith committed to helping people both spiritually by showing them how to let go of insecurity, negative thoughts and irrational behavior and physically through ministries such as international disaster relief.
The March cover of Rolling Stone magazine labels Scientology ‘the Secret Church‘ and a special report inside describes its space opera-like myths and how the church hides much of its “central theology from all but its most exalted followers.”
The report quotes former Scientologists who complain of brainwashing, expensive fees for services and retaliation for leaving.
Church officials respond in the report by dismissing the claims as misrepresentations from disgruntled former members and say the church gets too little credit for the good it does such as disaster response, literacy education and its drug-treatment program, Narconon.
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The magazine also describes how in 1955 a policy known as ‘Project Celebrity’ was initiated to solicit help in spreading the message by recruiting ‘Prime Communicators’ — stars in arts, sports, business and government.’
But Holden insists he’s not been drawn into the religion.
“The one thing I made clear to anybody that has come around me who may be part of the Scientology church is I will come to this function, but I don’t want anybody to try to do any converting,” he said.
“We have mutual respect for each other. Nobody has tried to come on and convert me to Scientology. I’m firmly rooted in the faith that I’m in.”
In Baton Rouge, the church lists offices for its Mission of Baton Rouge, Volunteer Ministries and Dianetics Foundation at 9432 Common St.
The church in Baton Rouge held a New Year’s Eve event, ‘Answering the Call for Planetary Clearing,’ and sometimes schedules workshops on ‘how the mind works.’ It meets at 7 p.m. today to honor the birth of Hubbard.
Scientologists, like those of many other faiths, ministered after hurricanes devastated Louisiana last year.
After Katrina, Holden accompanied Travolta to the River Center, where many lesser known Scientologists, uniformed in bright yellow shirts, joined the volunteer effort to care for evacuees.
The Scientologists’ work took similar forms as those of other volunteers, but also included what the church calls ‘assists.’
The ‘assists,’ which look like light massages, are intended to help victims and volunteers alike deal with the trauma of their experiences.
The church claimed about 300 volunteers working in the Gulf Coast area after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“They worked well with other volunteer groups and they got along with other people there,” he said. “I made sure they weren’t stressing religion.”
A brochure promoting the disaster relief efforts contains Holden’s photo with this quote adjacent to it: “You can incorporate many of L. Ron Hubbard‘s principles into your curriculum and into your life.”
The mayor-president said he didn’t know about the brochure until interviewed recently for this story and doesn’t know how the quote fits with the subject matter.
“You don’t have curriculum in disaster response,” he said.
Despite the apparent misunderstanding, Holden said he has nothing bad to say about Scientology or any of its tenets. “I don’t let anybody put me in a situation where I start to judge somebody based on their religion, because that’s another form of discrimination.”