House nixes honor for substance-abuse facility

The treatment center sparks controversy because of its ties to Scientology
Tulsa World, May 3, 2003
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OKLAHOMA CITY — Normally, resolutions honoring this or that group, person or event fly through the Legislature with nary a ripple of controversy.

However, those measures do not usually involve substance-abuse treatment facilities operated by the Church of Scientology.

Scientology teaches that human beings are immortal spiritual beings with unlimited capabilities, and their salvation depends on themselves and their attainment of brotherhood with the universe. Founded by author L. Ron Hubbard, it teaches adherents to follow a series of principles to achieve enlightenment.

On Thursday, freshman Rep. Terry Harrison, D-McAlester, appeared surprised that his Senate Concurrent Resolution 29, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, sparked opposition.

The resolution commends Narconon Arrowhead, a nationally recognized drug and alcohol treatment facility located at a former state lodge in Pittsburg County.

The measure doesn’t mention the facility’s ties to Scientology.

It cites the $5.5 million spent on the lodge’s purchase and renovation, delivery of free drug education programs to 58,000 Oklahoma youths, 130 jobs and $7.4 million impact on the local economy, among other attributes.

The center receives no state or federal government funds.

“This facility has changed people’s lives,” Harrison said. “They are a productive part of society again.”

Rep. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, said drug-afflicted people come to the Narconon center from all over the country. A lawyer, Lerblance said some of his clients have completed the program successfully.

“This is a program, a company, that has come into Pittsburg County to help people,” he said. “Whoever this company is owned by is immaterial.”

Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, also spoke for the measure.

“I’m completely ashamed of the membership here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who owns that facility down there, as long as it helps people.”

Rep. Ray Miller, D-Quinton, pointed out that actors John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are Scientologists.

He said Travolta wrote a check for the center so large that no Pittsburg County bank could cash it.

Miller said Narconon boasts a recidivism rate of only 20 percent, compared with 60 percent for most substance abuse treatment programs.

Rep. Bill Paulk, D-Oklahoma City, said he didn’t want his name “on something supporting the Church of Scientology.”

The veteran lawmaker said such measures illustrate the dangers of mixing church and state.

“This is a faith-based organization,” Paulk said.

Harrison said he has seen people’s lives changed forever by the Narconon program.

He said the group operates facilities in more than 20 countries and has just signed a contract to provide services to New York firefighters.

“I’m proud that Narconon Arrowhead is in Pittsburg County,” Harrison said.

The resolution failed 43-50. It had passed the Senate a day earlier, but not before Shurden fielded questions on the facility’s licensing with the state.

Formerly housed at the old Chilocco Indian school in Newkirk, the Narconon center moved to Arrowhead Resort on Lake Eufaula in August 2001. Former state Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, cut the ribbon at the 230-bed center’s grand opening.

The move met with some opposition. Concerned about security and property values, some nearby homeowners asked the Oklahoma State Department of Health to block the lodge’s change to a substance abuse center. However, then-acting Health Commissioner Jerry Regier upheld Narconon’s certificate of need.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday May 7, 2003.
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