Scientologist drug claim on poster is censured
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against the Church of Scientology, which stated in a poster that it had rescued 250,000 people from drug addiction.
The council said that the worldwide religious movement had not proved its claim that as many as a quarter of a million addicts had stopped using drugs as a direct result of Scientology's intervention.
The Church of England's Birmingham diocese and several members of the public had objected to the poster, which was produced by the Scientologists to publicise a tour of parts of the country.
The poster read: "Scientology: applied religious philosophy. 250,000 people salvaged from drugs." There was also a free telephone number and a website address.
The council said it accepted that many people had stopped taking drugs with the help of Scientology, but the movement had not proved that they had all been addicts.
The ASA web site
Church of Scientology 8 Ethel Street Birmingham West Midlands B2 4BG Date: 26th March 2003 Media: Poster Sector: Non-commercial Public Complaints From: Berkshire, Birmingham, London
Complaint:The Church of England Diocese of Birmingham and two members of the public objected to a poster, for the Church of Scientology, headlined "Scientology: applied religious philosophy. 250,000 people salvaged from drugs". Beneath the headline was a freephone telephone number and a website address.
1. The Church of England Diocese of Birmingham and a member of the public challenged the claim "250,000 people salvaged from drugs"
2. Another member of the public challenged whether Scientology could help people give up a damanging drug habit.
Codes Section: 3.1, 7.1 (Ed 10)
Adjudication:The advertisers explained that the Church of Scientology was a world-wide religious movement with more than 2,000 churches, missions and organisations in over 130 countries. They said the movement was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, who was particularly concerned with developing programmes to relieve drug dependency and deter drug abuse.
The advertisers maintained that the Church offered salvage from drugs through their Drug Purification Rundown and Drug Rundown programmes for treating drug addiction and their preventative and educational programmes about drugs; they asserted that the word "salvaged" meant "the retrieval or preservation from loss or destruction". The advertisers said the claim "250,000 people salvaged from drugs" was based on the number of people who had completed the drug rehabilitation programmes offered by the Church. They asserted that, because Scientology was a drug-free community, people who had undertaken one of the Drug Purification or Drug Rundown programmes had been salvaged from drugs. They said the advertised figure of 250,000 people salvaged from drugs was a conservative estimate of the number of people worldwide who had undertaken one of the drug rehabilitation programmes offered by the Church and had had signed statements to say they had been freed from the effects of drugs.
In support of their claim, the advertisers sent: information about their drug Purification Rundown and Drug Rundown programmes; samples of drug education literature and videos; signed testimonies from participants in their drug education programmes; medical evaluations of their drug rehabilitation programmes; extracts of surveys conducted in 1991 and 2001 that they believed showed that Scientology was a drug-free community and a sample of responses from people who were asked what they understood the message of the poster to be. The advertisers maintained that, although it could be interpreted in different ways, the intended message of the poster was that Scientology could help anyone who had a problem with drugs, as it had helped many thousands of others. They believed the advertisement encouraged people to visit their website or contact the Church for advice and help on drugs, not to join the Church. They explained that the poster had appeared at the same time as a well-publicised exhibition on Scientology in the centre of Birmingham and said they believed that it would be interpreted in that context.
1. Complaint upheldThe Authority noted the advertisers' submission. Although it accepted that more than 250,000 people had undertaken the Church's Drug Purification and Drug Rundown programmes, which were designed to free people from the effects of taking drugs, the Authority understood that, within Scientology, the concept of "drug use" referred to a variety of behaviours that ranged from heavy use of street drugs to occasional ingestion of alcohol or prescription medicines and exposure to chemical toxins. It understood that, because the Church of Scientology described itself as a "drug-free community", members were encouraged to identify their patterns of drug use and free themselves from habits that contravened Scientology's philosophy. Although it acknowledged the terms of Scientology's philosophy on drug use, the Authority considered that, without clarification, readers were likely to interpret the claim "250,000 people salvaged from drugs" to mean that 250,000 people had stopped being dependent on street or prescription drugs because of Scientology. The Authority accepted that the drug Purification Rundown and Drug Rundown programmes the advertisers offered had enabled many people to overcome a dependency on drugs but was nevertheless concerned that the advertisers had not proved that all those enrolled on the programmes were dependent on street or prescription drugs at the time of enrolment or that as many as 250,000 drug users had stopped using those drugs as a direct result of Scientology's intervention. The Authority welcomed the advertisers' assurance that the poster was no longer appearing and advised them to make clear the terms of their definition of drugs in future advertising.
2. Complaint not upheldThe Authority considered that the advertisers' evidence showed that many people with a damaging drug habit had stopped taking drugs with help from Scientology and did not object on those grounds.