The church touts on its website that tens of thousands of schools and hundreds of law enforcement agencies use Scientology’s drug abuse prevention programs and materials — brochures full of dystopian images of a drug-addled teen wasteland. But professionals in medicine and education have largely disavowed the church’s theories and fear-stoking drug prevention programs and said the teachings are inaccurate.
This week, Tony Ortega — a journalist and critic of Scientology — pointed out a Facebook post mentioning a partnership between a local drug prevention organization backed by the church and the Miami Police Department (MPD). Drug-Free World of South Florida — an arm of the Church of Scientology — announced on Facebook it was “honored to partner” with MPD for a Super Bowl program. The nonprofit is a local chapter of Foundation for a Drug-Free World, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate drug and alcohol abuse “and its resulting criminality.”
A Facebook photo shows officers and nonprofit representatives holding the church’s “The Truth About Drugs” brochures:
Reached by New Times, however, MPD denied any formal relationship with Drug-Free World.
“This organization approached MPD and the Super Bowl Host Committee during a Super Bowl community meeting and requested to meet and introduce their organization,” the department said in a statement. “They were granted permission by the NFL to pass out pamphlets outside the Super Bowl Live event. The organization also met with MPD to present their campaign and provide information on the shirts that they would be wearing.
“This was the extent of the meeting. MPD has not entered into a partnership with this organization. At the conclusion of the meeting, they requested to take a picture with MPD representatives, which we agreed to.”
Neither the NFL nor the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee responded to a request from New Times about the league’s affiliation with the organization.
Julieta Santagostino, president of the Florida chapter of Foundation for a Drug-Free World, says the nonprofit has operated in South Florida for 13 years. She says the Super Bowl program involves distributing the organization’s drug-use prevention materials at businesses, community centers, and after-school programs, among other places across Miami-Dade.
“We’re working together to make this a safe, drug-free Super Bowl,” Santagostino says.
Santagostino says she isn’t aware of any criticism of the nonprofit’s materials spreading misinformation about drugs.
“What I can tell you is drugs don’t discriminate,” she says. “We work together with other organizations to get the truth about drugs out. We work with actual, factual information.”
The veracity of that last statement is debatable, according to previous news articles about the church’s drug prevention programs.
In 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the state’s superintendent of public instruction at the time urged all schools to drop the church’s anti-drug programs because the teachings are “filled with inaccuracies” that don’t reflect widely accepted medical evidence.
Officials in New York, where the Foundation for a Drug-Free World provided dozens of public schools with a free anti-drug program in 2015, said the organization’s materials use “misinformation and scare tactics.” Parents weren’t happy about the church’s messaging to kids either.
The Super Bowl photo is not the first time the City of Miami has appeared to promote the Church of Scientology. In 2017, then-Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado joined David Miscavige, the church’s leader, for the opening of a massive Scientology center in Coconut Grove. Although Miscavige and the church have been accused of widespread human-rights violations and abuses, Regalado said he views Scientology as a legitimate religion, such as Catholicism.
In addition to offering drug rehabilitation, Scientology is also in the business of criminal justice reform. New Times reported in 2018 that the church was recruiting for and running the inmate rehab program Criminon at Everglades Correctional Institution in West Miami-Dade. Criminon, which the church says means “no crime,” is styled after the church’s group of drug rehabilitation centers and programs, Narconon.
The NFL also has some ties to Scientology. NFL Hall of Famer and former St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk plugged Foundation for a Drug-Free World on Fox News in the leadup to the 2018 Super Bowl. That same year, a Scientology commercial that aired during the Super Bowl came under scrutiny amid accusations of physical and psychological abuse by the church’s members.