Legislator defends support of Scientology-linked exhibit

An Illinois state representative who sponsored the return of a controversial Scientology-linked exhibit to the Thompson Center this month says he supported the display because it offered “an alternative perspective on psychotropic drugs.”

In endorsing the exhibit, which describes psychiatry as a pseudoscience that pushes pills and is similar to Nazism, Rep. Kenneth Dunkin cited the brutal medical research performed by the Nazis as well as the inhumane Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which conducted testing on poor minority sharecroppers.

“I am not a Scientologist but someone has to give an alternative perspective,” said Dunkin, a North Side Democrat.

The exhibit, “Destroying Lives: Psychiatry Exposed,” was created by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, founded by the Church of Scientology. It closed last week.

Scientologists view psychiatry as fraudulent. Tom Cruise, a prominent Scientologist, had a public dustup with fellow actor Brooke Shields last year over her use of anti-depressants, adding fuel to the fire.


When the same exhibit went up at the Thompson Center in December 2003, the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich sought to have it removed. The display was reinstated in January after attorneys concluded the display did not promote a religious point of view.

The Illinois chapter of National Alliance for Mental Illness reported receiving several complaints last week from people who found the content of the exhibit offensive and were confused by the Citizens Commission’s official-sounding name.

Katherine Rush, who works in the building, said she contacted Dunkin’s office to complain.

“The problem with Scientologists asking a state rep to sponsor the display is that it makes it awkward for another politician to say anything critical,” Rush said. “It makes it personal.”

Meryl Sosa, executive director of the Illinois Psychiatric Society, said she wondered why Dunkin would endorse an exhibit featuring “disturbing” images of institutionalized patients in restraints and undergoing electroshock therapy. It also connects the use of psychiatric drugs to high-profile murders and school shootings.

“We couldn’t figure out what was behind his thought process to publicly sponsor it,” she said. “The affiliation with a state legislator … has put it in a different realm. It makes it look legit.”

Marla Filidei, the Citizens Commission’s vice president, said she couldn’t recall how the connection with Dunkin was made. But he is not the first politician to lend his name to the exhibit, which has been shown in more than 145 cities in 18 countries, she said.

“The only place we’ve had a problem has been Illinois,” she said, referring to the Blagojevich administration’s earlier efforts to block the display.

Dr. Carl Bell, a prominent Chicago psychiatrist who like Dunkin is African-American, called the exhibit “not an alternative view, but a harmful view.”

The mistrust of psychiatry in minority communities “only widens the gap in health disparities,” he said. “[Dunkin] thinks he’s helping constituents, but he’s actually harming them.”

The legislator said he stands by his sponsorship. “There is a culture that says if you don’t use this drug you can’t be cured,” Dunkin said. “In fact, no drug can cure you.”

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This post was last updated: Dec. 8, 2017