For those already uncomfortable with the erosion of the separation of church and state in voucher programs and faith-based programs under Presidents Bush and Obama, a new proposal in Flint Michigan is likely to seen the inevitable result of this trend. The Flint city council is considering using police and other public officers to distribute copies of “The Way To Happiness,” a book by Scientology creator L. Ron Hubbard.
Scientologist Monika Biddle reportedly introduced the council to the book during an August 22 meeting as a way to reverse the high rates of crime and poverty in the city. The message appeared to resonate with Councilwoman Monica Galloway (right) who said “We need to sow [values] into these children [because these] are things they are not getting.”
While presented as a nonreligious moral code, the book is obviously associated with Scientology and written by its founder. Putting aside the controversy over Scientology and the view of some countries that it is a cult or criminal organization, there remains the more pressing question of the use of material closely associated with a religious organization. The book contains 20 different principles like “Don’t Be Promiscuous,” “Be Temperate,” and “Do Not Murder.” It has been distributed by The Way to Happiness Foundation which claims a distribution of 100 million copies of the book all over the world. The Foundation and distribution of the book has been the source of long controversy around the country, particularly in schools.
Police Chief James Tolbert did not balk at the notion of police officers passing out the book. He is quoted as saying “From the information I’ve seen, apparently it works. I’m for anything that works.” (You may recall Tolbert from the Detroit scandals)
Secularists have objected to the plan for obvious reasons. First, the use of public employees to distribute such a book is highly troubling, particularly when the book is written by a religious leader. I would feel the same if it is Hubbard or a rabbi or the Pope. It further erases the line of separation that is already under fire in our society. Second, the notion that a book like this will save the city of Flint shows how detached from reality some members of the government have become. The idea that a police officer will hand a copy of this book to a drug dealer and he will suddenly realize that killing and promiscuity is wrong seems less than likely. Finally, the role of politicians in trying to instill morality in a population is a dangerous proposition. Not only are politicians the last group that I would look to for such lessons, they often use such gimmicks to take away from the fact that they are making no serious efforts to address these social problems.
Flint has enormous and growing problems. It will not help its image with investors to be seen as using public employees to pass out a book like this. More importantly, it will not help its citizens. Flint has lost too much in jobs, the environment, schools and other areas. It does not need to add the separation of church and state as another casualty of its long-standing downturn.