Religious ignorance and bigotry does, in fact, exist among our lawmakers. It effects the legislation they vote on, and, consequently, you and me. Please seriously consider what I share here.
Religious affiliation is a delicate matter and should NEVER be used to manipulate political issues in a negative fashion. When the line is crossed, there must be accountability. This is expected of any place of business. The citizen's capitol hill must have an even higher standard.
I share with you the following example as it is very applicable to the status of House Bill 109, "Informed Consent for Electroconvulsive Treatment and Reporting Requirements, " by Representative Katherine Bryson. HB 109 is currently being held in senate rules and shows no sign of coming out. The issue of the religious affiliation of a few of the supporters of the bill have haunted it all along the way.
Citizen activist Lora Mengucci had a conversation today with Senator Greg Bell (Republican). According to Mrs. Mengucci, the following is a synopsis of her conversation:
Mrs. Mengucci asked Sen. Bell how he felt about HB 109. Sen. Bell indicated that he didn't think any reporting or regulations needed to be implemented on this issue. He felt that electroconvulsive (shock) treatment was already being handled appropriately. He then asked who was "behind the bill."
Mrs. Mengucci responded that Katherine Bryson was behind the bill. She saw the products of the psychiatric profession and desired to take action.
Sen. Bell asked who else was behind the bill. He asked, "Is this a Scientology issue?"
Mrs. Mengucci responded that she is a Scientologist and that her mother's life was ruined by shock treatment.
Sen. Bell informed Mrs. Mengucci that, "You know, Scientologists are against proper medical care."
Mrs. Mengucci replied that Scientologists are not against proper medical care, but are against harming individuals. She explained that when you take 170 volts and drive it through somebody's brain, it destroys capillaries and breaks down the fluid barrier in the brain. On the one hand, we have neurologists who are trying to prevent trauma to the brain. On the other hand, we have psychiatrists attempting to cause trauma to the brain.
Sen. Bell then mentioned that he had talked to a Louis Moench, who he highly respects. Mr. Moench, interestingly, has been circulating a scathing email (attached) against the Scientologist religion to at least the entire House of Representatives. In this email, he wrote the following:
"The provisions of this bill are based in part on a Texas law influenced in its creation by the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights. CCHR is the political arm of Scientology, a group calling itself a church for tax purposes and for decades espousing a strong anti-psychiatry ideology."
Now perhaps Sen. Bell was genuinely ignorant of the specific doctrines of Scientology. Perhaps he was ignorant of this message and Mr. Moench's bias and prejudice against the Scientologist religion. Perhaps that is the way he likes to conduct his conversations. But the tone of the conversation was inappropriate and sends, even in unintentionally, a very demeaning message to all Scientologists--indeed, all citizens of all religions.
There is a pattern here that I hope Sen. Bell is not consciously a part of. This is not the first time this particular citizen, her fellow practitioners, and their efforts have come under fire--simply because their religion and beliefs are not dominant in Utah.
In the committee hearing on HB 109, the expert witness in support of the bill was singled out for scrutiny by Representative Judy Ann Buffmire. Rep. Buffmire was insistent on publicly making the connection that the Scientologists (through the Citizens Commission on Human Rights) had paid to have this witness travel to Utah to offer testimony.
Never mind that the witness was not a Scientologist and has been paid by numerous other organizations to provide expert testimony around the nation. Never mind that there were others who testified against the bill who had far more suspicious connections.
Rep. Buffmire should have scrutinized her own qualifications to objectively judge the merits of HB 109. She is a psychologist by profession, a Board Director for Valley Mental Health, and a member of the American and Utah Psychological Associations. She received the 1999 Legislator of the Year Award from the Utah Behavioral Healthcare Network, Utah State Division of Mental Health, and Utah State Board of Mental Health. And don't forget the Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association.
If fair is fair, it would have been totally appropriate to ask Rep. Buffmire who paid HER to be on that committee. And the scrutiny should have continued until Rep. Buffmire felt personally attacked and persecuted.
Two years ago, when I published an op-ed for my FORMER employer, the Sutherland Institute, against the insidious Programs for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), rumors immediately circulated around that capitol that I was a member of the Scientologist religion (which I am not by the way, though that makes precious little difference to the point I'm trying to make).
To attempt to besmirch religious beliefs in order to quickly weaken a worthy political cause is unconscionable. If this pattern had been employed against members of the LDS, Baptist, Jews, Catholic, or other dominant faiths while discussing such relevant political issues, it would be front page news--as well it should.
This is a sad state of affairs. We all now have cause to wonder whether religious bias or prejudice was a factor in the status of the bills that were in any way supported or opposed by some members of the Scientologist faith.
If you concur with my analysis, contact your senators and inform them that should HB 109 fail, it will be difficult to distinguish whether it was a vote for the people or a vote against the religious beliefs of Scientologists.
I also hope some of you will also join me in a Citizenâ€ôs Task Force for Legislative Integrity. I want to identify what barriers there are that make it impossible for decent legislators to get their job done. I also want to identify what needs to be done to ensure that citizens are treated with respect by those who serve them. Then I want to make it happen.
Daniel B. Newby
P.S. The preceeding message was my personal opinion. To receive an alert on this subject directly, email me at email@example.com.