A Times Editorial
Bills in the state Legislature that aim to keep students from receiving psychiatric treatment bear the familiar marks of Scientology.
L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer before he decided, more than a half-century ago, to publish his views on mental health. Now, apparently, his adherents are writing Florida law.
Two bills aimed at schoolchildren that are winding their way through the Legislature bear a familiar Hubbard trademark. They hold the practice of modern mental health medicine in contempt and, by extension, those who would dare to seek the help of a psychiatrist. The bills were written, at least in part, by a group called Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which was set up by the Church of Scientology in 1969 to attack health care professionals who don't subscribe to Hubbard's vision of "Dianetics." Hubbard, who died in 1986 and whose writings created the foundation of Scientology, saw mental illness as a spiritual problem that could be cured through such things as "auditing" and "introspection rundown."
Tampa Republican Sen. Victor Crist and Miami Beach Republican Rep. Gustavo Barreiro now want to bring Scientology to a school near you.
The bills these men are sponsoring would try to keep students from ever getting psychiatric treatment, even those who might be contemplating suicide. The bills would require that any mental health treatment become part of the student's permanent record and that schools tell parents that mental illness cannot be diagnosed through a medical test.
Crist tries to discount the role of Scientology in his bill by suggesting he is concerned with psychiatrists who too often turn to medication. His bill, however, is directed not at improving mental health medicine but at belittling it.
"No matter how far we have come in understanding depression as a biochemical disease, there is still a certain amount of shame attached to it," says Donna Sicilian, president of the Florida Association of School Social Workers. "Bills like these, particularly with the wording that was chosen, perpetuate that."
To his credit, Jim McDonough, who heads the state office for drug control and suicide prevention, has spoken out against the bill and urged lawmakers to stick to modern science. His efforts have caused Scientologists to flood him with public records requests and demands that he prove "the medical basis of mental illness."
The Scientologists are certainly entitled to their own world view, and the celebrities who are drawn to it are surely buoyed by Hubbard's suggestion that they are "a cut above man." But Florida law, and Florida schoolchildren, don't need to be a party to Hubbard's grudge against psychiatrists.