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School Drops Assembly Because of Group’s Scientology Link

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The principal of a Sherman Oaks elementary school has canceled an assembly by an environmental group because of fears that parents would object to the organization’s connection with the Church of Scientology.

The Sherman Oaks School’s 927 students were scheduled to watch skits and hear songs Monday performed by Cry Out, an environmental group affiliated with Scientology. The event, which was to include an appearance by child actor Vonni Ribisi, was to kick off a yearlong study of environmental issues such as recycling and air pollution, Principal Grace Snipper said. Ribisi starred in the canceled TV show “My Two Dads.”

Snipper said Friday she decided to drop the event, pending review by officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The Church of Scientology’s self-help ideology is based on the writings of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, its founder. The church has been investigated by federal authorities and is considered by many experts to be a cult.

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“I don’t know the first thing about the Church of Scientology, but it would be a waste of time to have people worrying about whether or not we are trying to expound the teachings of Scientology,” Snipper said. “We can teach environmental lessons in other ways.”

At least one parent raised questions about the group’s affiliation with Scientology last week, Snipper said. Although she did not believe the presentation would be harmful to children, Snipper said she feared more parents would object once they found out about the program’s connection with the controversial religion.

Materials used by Cry Out were prepared by Author Services Inc., the literary agency for Hubbard, the late founder of Scientology, according to an investigation earlier this year by The Times. Author Services is controlled by influential Scientologists, The Times investigation found.

“I would be concerned and understand the concern of parents about exposing children to any organization that links back to the Church of Scientology,” said Cynthia Kisser, executive director of the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network, a national nonprofit organization.

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School board member Roberta Weintraub said she agreed with Snipper’s decision to cancel the event.

“I don’t think it is appropriate for any kind of church or organization like this to be on campus, particularly if they are coming under the guise of something else,” Weintraub said.

The Cry Out booklet makes no mention of Scientology or its teachings. But it credits Hubbard with writing the words and music to “Cry Out,” a song used as an anthem by the group.

A portion of the song includes: “To hell with those whose carelessness in pollution is expressed, to hell with forced politics, where victory is only death.”

Meri Dolan, a Cry Out volunteer who helped Sherman Oaks School officials organize the event, said the only connection between the environmental group and the Church of Scientology “is L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote the song, ‘Cry Out.’ ”

“There is absolutely no connection with Scientology,” Dolan said.

Members of the Sherman Oaks Parent Assn., a school booster club, spent $600 to purchase 1,000 “Cry Out” booklets to distribute to students after Monday’s assembly. The 48-page color booklet explains the benefits of recycling and other forms of conservation.

Jay Levy, co-chairman of the parents group, said he was aware of the link between Cry Out and Scientology but supported the assembly because “the program itself is great.”

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“I looked at the booklet and there is no mention of Scientology,” Levy said.

“The only thing that bothers me is if it is related to Scientology, why didn’t they come out and say it?” he said.

Sherman Oaks parent Judy London said she approached school officials with the idea of bringing the Cry Out presentation to the school after picking up one of the group’s booklets at the Los Angeles Zoo earlier this year.

London said she grew nervous about the group in September when she went to pick up 40 booklets to distribute to teachers.

“I went to the address they gave me, and it said Author Services Inc. on the building but inside you walk into the L. Ron Hubbard Gallery,” London said. “I asked about the relation and they said there was no relation at all.”

Sandy Scholton, principal of Montemalaga Elementary School in the Palos Verdes Unified School District, said he was unaware of any connection between Cry Out and the Church of Scientology when he agreed to have the presentation at his school in June.

“It was a very entertaining program, but if I had known the connection I would have taken a much closer look at the literature,” Scholton said.


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