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Scientology affiliate The Way To Happiness of Glendale teaches honesty in schools but, according to LAPD and others, utilizes dishonest promotions
By Carl Kozlowski
If a high-ranking LAPD official can be believed, perhaps the Scientology-affiliated The Way To Happiness should take a page from its own teachings.
Two of the Glendale-based nonprofit organization's 21 guides to achieving happiness are "Be Worthy of Trust" and "Seek to Live the Truth," neither of which were followed apparently in the group's dealings with the LAPD and a city in Texas.
Officials with the group, which over the past two decades has distributed booklets of the same name to millions of school children across the country, all with the help of a variety of public officials and corporate sponsors, say they have worked with hundreds of organizations throughout Southern California and around the country in efforts to promote clean living as a virtue worthy of emulating.
But according to LAPD Cmdr. Mike Downing, the Church of Scientology forged his endorsement on The Way To Happiness Web site, prompting the LAPD to disavow any endorsement of Scientology and The Way To Happiness.
"We cannot endorse the Church of Scientology or any religion as the LAPD, and we very specifically said they could not use the LAPD name as it related to their book. They know they are clearly overstepping their bounds" in linking to the LAPD as an organization that works with The Way To Happiness Foundation (TWTH).
TWTH, Downing told the Pasadena Weekly, also apparently fraudulently posted on the Web a letter of commendation from the LAPD that was not signed by alleged writer Chief William Bratton, and also forged Downing's approval by rubber-stamping his signature to the image on the site, www.twth.org.
But that isn't the only time TWTH, which has distributed booklets to more than 12 million American schoolchildren in 12,600 public schools since its inception in 1984, allegedly fabricated information to promote its product.
In the case of the LAPD, the booklets were distributed by the department, but only after TWTH representatives approached police officials repeatedly and only succeeded in disseminating through the Hollywood Division. Even then, when TWTH attempted to distribute the booklets with the LAPD's name on them and depict a book-cover drawing of a policeman wearing an LAPD badge, they were ordered by police to remove the badge image and remove the department's name from the back cover.
"We sent them back and said they could not distribute the literature with the LAPD Hollywood Division on the text. I've seen the program work, and I don't mind programs that try to raise the stature of communities and clean them up, but we as the LAPD cannot endorse the Church of Scientology," said Downing. "I did not authorize the letter displayed on their site nor its display, and they used a stamped-font signature instead of my actual one."
In response, TWTH President Lance Miller, a high-level Scientologist, denied any wrongdoing on the part of the foundation and said Downing is, at best, mistaken.
"That's the first I've heard of it. Michael Downing has appeared at events for us and spoken very highly of the work we do," said Miller. "As far as I know, the letter was generated and sent by him and I have the original hanging on my wall here. It looks like a real signature to me. But if it's a situation where we need to remove it, we certainly want to comply."
The organization's success at entering public schools with a guidebook espousing "21 Rules for Living" is particularly noteworthy at a time when displaying the Ten Commandments in schools, courthouses and other public places remains a hot-button issue.
While TWTH states that the booklets are devoid of religious content or any proselytizing for the Church of Scientology, the book's rules directly parallel the life rules displayed by the church at its L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition in Hollywood.
However, TWTH downplays its ties to Scientology, which has long battled charges that it is a cult, and does not note in booklets that the author is Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
As reported in the Weekly on Aug. 4, the hugely popular Church of Scientology, a religion embraced by such Hollywood luminaries as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, has attracted widespread media attention, primarily due to exposure by Cruise on national television in recent months. In turn, that exposure prompted some disgruntled former members to reopen some of the church's lengthy history of lawsuits and claims alleging fraud, threatening of the church's critics, and the fact that the heart of the church's beliefs center around the claim that every human's stresses are in reality the result of the souls of aliens, Thetans, attaching themselves to their bodies.
Church leaders have responded to some of these criticisms by softening some of the organization's more blatant recruitment tactics while claiming the church's more extreme aspects are aberrations of the past.
According to ex-church member Tory Christman, who rose to the second-highest level of membership during her 30 years as a Scientologist, such questionable tactics are de rigueur for TWTH and its affiliate program, Set A Good Example (SAGE), which encourages community volunteerism by students and sponsors local essay contests on that theme. "It's fantastic when kids go out and do good in the community as part of their Set A Good Example program, but they can't say it's not part of Scientology," said Christman. "Scientology is designed to 'clear' planet Earth's citizens of their problems, so kids are always going to be part of that approach.
"The church calls it 'safeguarding' when they're able to promote positive attitudes about Scientology by doing things people like and help people," Christman continued. "They should do good things but it's bad that they use community leaders to promote and pay for the books who often have no clue it's affiliated with Scientology."
Controversy be damned, TWTH is growing, as Foundation President Miller noted that the program had just this month been authorized for use in all of Nevada's public schools.
"We just put a million books into the South LA area through The Way To Happiness Outdoors Club, which takes inner-city youths into the mountains and shows them a world beyond their four-block radius," said Miller. "We work with over 600 different organizations, and the programs are often more successful when run exterior to the school system but still in conjunction. We rely on community members' donations to pay for it, not tax dollars, and the SAGE contest is optional."
The ability to distribute the booklet in so many schools has raised questions in some areas from advocates of church-state separation as well as coalitions of church and parental groups. For instance, according to a June 27, 1990, article in the Los Angeles Times, a Fresno school district official named Geoff Garratt led a successful campaign to bar TWTH and its SAGE program due to church-state separation concerns even after the program had successfully been launched in a middle school in that city.
Yet Barbara Ayash, president of another Scientology-related group called the Concerned Businessmen of America (CBA), still mentioned the Fresno program as one of the SAGE success stories in an Aug. 15 interview with the Weekly. In addition, Ayash's granddaughter, Marylen Ayash-Borgen of San Diego, faxed the Weekly office two statements that she authored about purported TWTH and SAGE successes in Glendale and Inglewood schools.
One statement claimed the city of Harlingen, Texas, attained a year with "ZERO violent crimes" in 1998, three years after Harlingen became the first city in America to offer the programs citywide in its public schools.
The problem is that claim is a lie as well.
According to the May 24, 1999, newspaper article that Ayash-Borgen refers to, which was faxed to the Weekly by a current staff member of the Harlingen Valley Morning Star, violent crime and crimes against property in that city had fallen by 13 percent in 1998. Yet the city still experienced 54 violent crimes per 10,000 residents for an approximate total of 324 violent crimes in the city of 60,000. Additionally, police officials did not mention The Way To Happiness program at all as one of the reasons for the crime drop.
"I can't conceive that we would say any program alone was responsible for dropping crime," Juan I. Ramirez, public information officer for the Harlingen police, said in a phone interview. "Besides, there's no city on Earth without violent crime."
But former Harlingen Mayor Connie de la Garza was receptive to trying the program after he was approached by local dentist and Scientologist Juan Villareal in the mid-1990s about what he described as "a program that can help young people make the right decisions."
Rev. Charles Palmer, pastor of the Treasure Hills Presbyterian Church in Harlingen, led a coalition of a dozen pastors from throughout the city who sought to bar TWTH from the city's schools. Yet despite their combined strength, the protests were unsuccessful for an interesting reason. "We wanted equal access of all churches, but it didn't seem to deter anything because Dr. Villareal became the school board president," said Palmer. "We ultimately didn't receive any feedback once the program was in schools, but most people would say the materials would look good. Our concern was because of who authored it initially and where it was coming from." The promise to keep Scientology tenets out of schools was kept despite the fact that in 2002 Villareal settled a federal lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging he had forced his dental practice employees to take Scientology courses or lose their jobs. "Anytime you have a program trying that, I'm for it regardless of religion, creed or code," said de la Garza in a phone interview. "Whether you agree with Mr. Hubbard's philosophy or not is immaterial. What I like is if you can touch a child and make them a better adult. That's what we need to do."
It was de la Garza's recommendation in a letter to Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn that inspired Dorn to welcome TWTH and SAGE programs into his city's public schools three years ago. Dorn noted that he was aware of the programs' Scientology connection. Dorn said he also knew that the program is paid for by donations rather than tax dollars, and he believed that they sufficiently steered clear of proselytizing to merit inclusion for the values they promoted. "I am a minister in the AME church, and those portions of the Church of Scientology that teach individuals to uplift their lives and cause them to do better with their lives, how can I argue against that?" said Dorn. "The Methodists can develop a book like that, Baptists, Catholics, anyone who develops that kind of book if it's good, the schools will say fine. But if it's going to be promoting religion, that's different and I'd be against it."
Dorn's opinion was largely echoed by Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU of Southern California's Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights. Eliasberg noted that some of the issues that could grow out of having TWTH in schools are tricky, but appear to have been carefully navigated by the organization.
"The only way a school might be allowed to distribute religious materials on campus from outside groups is if they allowed other religions to come in. You can imagine it could get crazy, so a lot of schools might not open themselves so broadly," said Eliasberg.
"What's tricky is that it's not obviously either here, a religion or religious group. I'm concerned that they use a different name, and parents and schools should be vigilant so that the lines shouldn't be crossed," Eliasberg said. "Is this a way in the door to further proselytizing? But if this is the equivalent to a school assembly on tolerance, I can't say it's a bad thing to have general moral training in schools."