Emerging from years of internal strife and public scandal, the Scientology movement has embarked on a sweeping and sophisticated campaign to gain new influence in America.
The goal is to refurbish the tarnished image of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and elevate him to the ranks of history's great humanitarians and thinkers. By so doing, the church hopes to broaden the acceptability of Hubbard's Scientology teachings and attract millions of new members.
The campaign relies on official church programs and a network of groups run by Scientology followers. Here is a sampler of their activities:
Scientologists are disseminating Hubbard's writings in public and private school classrooms across the U.S., using groups that seldom publicize their Scientology connections.
In the business world, Scientologists have established highly successful private consulting firms to promote Hubbard as a management expert, with a goal of harvesting new, affluent members.
Scientologists are the driving force behind two organizations active in the scientific community. The organizations have been busy trying to sell government agencies a chemical detoxification treatment developed by Hubbard.
The Scientology movement's ambitious quest to assimilate into the American mainstream comes less than a decade after the church seemed destined for collapse, testifying to its remarkable determination to survive and grow.
In 1980, 11 top church leaders--including Hubbard's wife--were imprisoned for bugging and burglarizing government offices as part of a shadowy conspiracy to discredit the church's perceived enemies.
Today, Scientology executives insist that the organization is law-abiding, that the offenders have been purged and that the church has now entered an era in which harmony has replaced hostility.
But as the movement attempts to broaden its reach, evidence is mounting that Hubbard's devotees are engaging in practices that, while not unlawful, have begun to stir memories of its troubled past.
Scientology and the Schools
The Scientology movement has launched a concerted campaign to gain a foothold in the nation's schools by distributing to children millions of copies of a booklet Hubbard wrote on basic moral values.
The program is designed to win recognition for Hubbard as an educator and moralist and, at the same time, introduce him to the nation's youth.
The pocket-size booklet, entitled "The Way to Happiness," is a compilation of widely agreed upon values that Hubbard put into writing in 1981. Its 96 pages include such admonitions as "take care of yourself," "honor and help your parents," "do not murder" and "be worthy of trust."
The booklet notes in small print that it was written by Hubbard as "an individual and is not part of any religious doctrine."
But Scientology publications have called the campaign "the largest dissemination project in Scientology history" and "the bridge between broad society and Scientology."
Scientologists estimate that 3.5 million copies have been introduced into 4,500 elementary, junior high and senior high schools nationwide. Altogether, more than 28 million copies have been translated into at least 14 languages and distributed throughout the world.
The booklet is distributed by the Concerned Businessmen's Assn. of America, an organization not officially connected to the church but run by Scientologists.
The Scientology connection is downplayed by the group. Its leader, Barbara Ayash of Marina del Rey, said she launched the association after five of her children became involved with drugs.
Her group runs a nationwide contest encouraging students to stay off drugs by following the precepts in Hubbard's booklet. Participants in the "Set a Good Example" contest must come up with projects using the booklet as their guide. By focusing on the drug issue, the association has won the backing of school officials and political figures unaware of its links to Scientology.
In Louisiana, a junior high school distributed Hubbard's booklet to students and then had them pledge in writing:
"I promise to do my best to learn, practice and use the 21 points of good moral conduct contained in 'The Way to Happiness' book to improve myself, set a good example for my friends, and to help my family, my community and my country."
As an incentive to get campus administrators on board, the association awards $5,000 to the winning elementary, junior high and senior high schools.
At contest awards ceremonies, the winners and Hubbard's book share the spotlight.
For example, during a ceremony at the Charleston, W.Va., civic center, then-Gov. Arch Moore and other dignitaries were each presented a leather-bound copy of "The Way To Happiness."