An Illinois state representative seems to be at odds recently with the law after presenting a bill that would, unbeknownst to him, introduce teachings of the Church of Scientology to public school curriculums.
Seeking to shape the character and integrity of children in the state’s public schools, Dan Burke (D-Chicago) sponsored House Resolution 254, which proposes three programs for character development, including the now controversial option “Good Choices.”
Created by Nancy Cartwright’s non-profit foundation Happy House, the Good Choices program appeared at first glance to be a morally upright regimen designed to help positively shape kids. Cartwright is most well-known as the voice behind America’s mischievous child, Bart Simpson.
But when word began to circulate that the curriculum was based on The Way to Happiness, a book written by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, of which she was an active member, many Republicans reacted and spoke out.
Spokesman for Illinois’ House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, Jerry Mitchell (R-Sterling) stated that he had no problem with the common sense content of the book until he turned to the back page, which listed Hubbard as the author, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“I’m not arguing with their beliefs,” Mitchell shared. “When the man’s name is on the back of the book, when you have Nancy Cartwright coming to lobby for it, I can’t separate those people from this program [from whom] kids, through the Internet, may seek out guidance and leadership.”
Cartwright, who spoke before the House panel on Wednesday, was purported to carry the second-highest ranking in the Scientology organization, and donated $10 million to the church in 2007, as stated in the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I’m not sure the public schools should be in the business of allowing that kind of relationship to be fostered,” Mitchell said.
Burke, the lead sponsor, assured, however, that the material was “innocuous, basic, good citizenship stuff,” and not a promotion for Scientology, crediting the reference to Hubbard as more of a copyright issue, though the name of the founder’s original book still appeared on the front cover.
Despite his defense, he received several calls on Tuesday from those in opposition of the resolution, where he learned of one instance where a woman’s father left his family devoid of any financial resources after joining the church group.
“There is a suggestion Scientology is a cult, of sorts,” Burke said. “We’ve heard all the controversy about it, but never did I think it was to this desperate extent. These are people who obviously drank the Kool-Aid.”
Never intending to advocate the religion through the bill, he expressed, “I had no interest in Scientology, whatsoever.”
His interest in Cartwright’s program was more superficial, stating that he couldn’t resist the novelty of a celebrity endorsement. He thought it would be “fun to have Bart Simpson’s voice down there.”
“We looked for an opportunity to light it up a bit,” Burke relayed in the local Tribune. “But sometimes all that glitters is not gold. I’m disappointed it has taken this turn.”
Levity has turned to consternation, Mitchell concluded. Unwilling to risk the separation between church and state, the hesitant Republican lawmaker expressed that he “would knock a code of conduct authored by Pope John Paul II as much as the one authored by Hubbard.”
Both Mitchell and Burke agreed that if the bill were to pass the committee on Wednesday, they would strip all references to Cartwright’s organization and Hubbard’s book. The measure was rejected despite appeals from Bart Simpson himself, as Cartwright opened her statement in the voice of the cartoon.
Before the vote, Cartwright appeared before the House panel and attempted to clarify the “misunderstanding,” denying that the 48-page booklet was part of any religious agenda, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Stressing the moral concepts such as respecting others’ religions, treating other people the way you want to be treated, and living up to promises instead, she vowed that she was not “purporting that the religion of Scientology be taught in schools.”
Atheist Rob Sherman also testified and argued against the material because of its tie to Scientology and Constitutional breach, explaining that adopting the booklet into school curricula would be the comparable to Francis Cardinal George promoting the Holy Bible for character education.
The Simpsons actress reiterated that she wasn’t attempting to indoctrinate Illinois schoolchildren and asked Sherman to take one of her “How to Make Good Choices” booklets and actually read it.
Further hoping to clarify the misunderstanding, Burke declared, “I happen to represent a very underprivileged community, a challenged community. I know what this document says, what this booklet espouses, is good for those people. It’s something they’re not getting in the home.”
But Mitchell, the committee’s ranking Republican, still objected to the book, not because of its contents, but because of the religious ties, where Internet-savvy children could link the book to Hubbard and be led to the religion.
Laurie Higgins, director of School Advocacy for the Illinois Family Institute, also disapproved of the program, telling The Christian Post that she was deeply troubled that lawmakers would include this in their curriculum.
“I know they’re saying the particular ideas are secularized notions, but imagine if you tried to put forth a document for character for public schools that was a secularized version of the Ten Commandments or Sermon on the Mount.”
With many of Cartwright’s principles resembling the Ten Commandments, like Hubbard’s 21 precepts for a happier life, Higgins stated, “If we think that that’s okay, why don’t we just have the Ten Commandments?”
Moreover, unsatisfied with the lawmakers’ suggested solution to a much more complicated problem, she asserted, “Taking out just the name [of Hubbard and Cartwright’s affiliation] is insufficient because the program itself will direct people to this religious website. I speculate that is one of their goals, which is why they are so tenacious in getting this in public schools.”
Because so much of the book highlights “generic good values,” Higgins wondered why lawmakers would not try and search for similar programs from a less controversial source and organization.
And like Rep. Mitchell, the Illinois Family Institute spokesperson felt that the booklet might have students researching further into the material, which would directly link them to the Church of Scientology.
“If someone searches for the 21 moral precepts, it takes them right to their site. And in addition, we’re left with the problematic ideas, the ideas that I wouldn’t agree with.”
Referring to the exposition of “happiness” on Hubbard’s “The Way to Happiness” website, which states things like “If one does not survive, no joy and no happiness are obtainable,” Higgins found some of the ideas deeply problematic to her own faith. “My personal survival isn’t the key to happiness in a Christian sense.”
Burke plans to rewrite the resolution and bring it up again later.