Scientology-link group is banned
Date: March 18, 2004
by Alan McEwen
A drug counselling group linked to the controversial Church of Scientology has been banned from Edinburgh University's student union.
The organisation called Narconon put up posters about its services on Edinburgh Student Association (EUSA) notice boards without permission.
Now union officials have pulled the posters down and outlawed any further adverts being displayed.
They are concerned Narconon may be used to recruit new members for Scientology, which has often targeted students in the Capital.
The Narconon posters contain no references to the quasi- religious group despite using the principles of its founder L Ron Hubbard, to treat addicts.
Mark Calder, EUSA vice-president, said the appearance of posters for Narconon had been "a source of concern". He added: "We have to be careful that drug and alcohol rehabilitation groups are impartial and only have a person's wellbeing at heart.We could not be sure that Narconon was independent.
"We carried out research which showed it has strong links with Scientology. We were also concerned that this link was not made explicit so a decision was made to take the posters down."
Narconon has denied acting as a recruiter for Scientology, which has a city base in South Bridge.
Eve McKenzie, executive director for Narconon Scotland, said: "Narconon has some volunteers who are Scientologists because Scientologists like to help people. We also have volunteers who are Christians, Jews and Muslims.
"Eighty per cent of Narconon staff are former addicts who have been through the programme and now want to assist others. Our aim is get people off drugs and make them part of the community again."
But she admitted some addicts treated under the Narconon programme later converted to Scientology. She added: "If this was a programme run by a Christian group and it had worked successfully, it would be understandable that the person wanted to learn more about Christianity. But there is no pressure involved."
Narconon, which claims to have helped 250,000 people overcome drug and alcohol addictions, was formed in 1966 by William Benitez, a former heroin addict, with the help of Hubbard, a science fiction writer.
Graeme Wilson, Say No to Drugs campaign manager for the Church of Scientology UK, said the student union had been "misinformed" about its ties with Narconon.
He added: "The link is Narconon uses the techniques of L Ron Hubbard, but it's a secular organisation and not linked to any one religion."
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said the poster ban had not been extended across all of its city campuses.
She added: "The university has received no requests from Narconon or the Church of Scientology to put up posters. Each of our buildings manages its own notice boards. If they did receive a request, it would be considered like any other."