After a drug-related tragedy, administrators at California’s Santa Monica High School decided the school needed a drug education program. But the school went cold turkey on its new drug education program after just three seminars when parents realized the program was actually run by the Church of Scientology.
After the LSD-related death of a Santa Monica High School first-year student in March, the school hired the Foundation for a Drug-Free World to host three anti-drug assemblies for freshman and sophomores, the Hollywood Reporter initially reported. But behind the group’s innocuous-sounding name was controversial religious organization. Although the affiliation is not immediately clear through any of the Foundation’s literature, the group is run by the Church of Scientology, a highly controversial organization sometimes accused of being a cult.
The Foundation reportedly led three seminars for students over several weeks, before hosting a workshop with approximately 200 parents on May 9. It was during this meet-up that parents reportedly began questioning the group that was leading regular seminars in the public school. While the Foundation does not advertise its affiliation with Scientology, its connections with the church are evident in its publicly available tax documents, and have drawn significant media attention since the Foundation was launched in 2006.
A number of parents, made newly aware of the group’s Scientology ties, reportedly complained to the school’s principal, who decided to cut short the drug program this month. The school district did not return a requests for comment on Sunday.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, the Church of Scientology accused Santa Monica High School of “religious discrimination.”
“The Church of Scientology is saddened to hear that religious discrimination would stand in the way of saving young lives,” the church wrote in a statement. “The Church is a proud sponsor of the Drug-Free World education program which has helped millions of young people to learn the truth about drugs and how to live a drug-free life.”
“One would think that the tragic death of a student from LSD would be enough to set aside bigotry when there is evidence-based information that is invaluable, free of charge and provided out of good will and open hearts,” the statement continued. “The mother volunteering to assist Santa Monica High School with this program gave of her time freely out of her own compassion to help other parents keep their kids safe and living clean, productive lives.”
A school district spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter that the school’s principal had “fully vetted this organization and felt that it would be excellent for our students.” Despite being sponsored by the religious organization, “the presentations and materials do not have any reference or mention of Scientology.”
But even without reference to Scientology, the Foundation’s materials have drawn skepticism from drug policy experts for the program’s sensational claims.
“Coming down from the drug causes depression so severe that a person will do almost anything to get the drug—even commit murder,” the Foundation’s website reads on a page about cocaine’s side-effects. “And if he or she can’t get cocaine, the depression can get so intense it can drive the addict to suicide.”
The program promotes a zero-tolerance policy of scare tactics and worst-case scenarios, an approach experts describe as ineffective. An abstinence-only drug education gives teens little understanding of how to safely handle drugs. According to a 2016 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some 38.3 percent of high school seniors have experimented with marijuana, and another 14.3 percent have experimented with drugs other than marijuana.
“It’s like if drivers education consisted simply of sitting down and showing kids pictures of crashes—and nothing else,” Jerry Otero, a youth policy leader at the Drug Policy Alliance told The Daily Beast in 2015. “No one would learn how to drive.”
The Foundation has previously been ousted from public schools in New York City, where it administered a similar anti-drug program until its ties to Scientology were revealed. In 2015, the Foundation boasted of lecturing at 30 New York City public schools, as well as with the New York City Police Department’s youth programs, where it reportedly led anti-drug training for school safety officers.