You've got to hand it to Attorney General John Ashcroft and D.C. Mayor Tony Williams. Ashcroft is a rock-ribbed social conservative and religious fundamentalist, and Williams is correctly described as an uptight brainiac in whose mouth butter would not be inclined to melt. But when it comes to implementation of George Bush's faith-based initiative in the District, Ashcroft and Williams seem capable of really thinking outside the box . . . or maybe of not being engaged at all.
I mean, who would have expected that in an effort to help the District of Columbia cope with droves of violent offenders returning from jail -- 2,000 last year, 2,500 this year, 3,000 in 2003 -- that the spirit-filled Ashcroft and holier-than-thou Tony Williams would seek the assistance of the Church of Scientology.
Well not directly. But without the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), the budding relationship between the District's ex-offender community and the Church of Scientology wouldn't be, ah, well, budding.
That CSOSA's lifeline is tied to the federal and District governments is not in question. CSOSA -- which looks after more than 26,000 individuals under pretrial supervision, probation or parole -- was certified as an independent federal agency by the Justice Department two years ago. The CSOSA director is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
CSOSA, in fact, helped write the District's grant application to Justice for $2 million to support local programs that help serious and violent offenders reenter the community.
Last week, Ashcroft and Williams announced that the District had been awarded the grant and that CSOSA is expected to play a key role.
I should note at this juncture that CSOSA has been cited in several recent columns as the agency that took nearly a year to notify a Superior Court judge that convicted felon and now-accused double-homicide felon Allen Logan had failed the terms of his probation. That failure -- along with other miscues in the criminal justice system -- allowed Logan to be on the streets when he should have been behind bars on the day 18-month-old Mikea Washington and 80-year-old Simona Druyard were murdered -- nearly decapitated in June.
But that was then.
The day after Ashcroft announced the grant award, CSOSA disclosed that it had joined with partners in the District's faith community to create a mentoring program for offenders recently released from prison. Citing the Bush administration's faith-based initiative as the guiding light and quoting president Bush's desire to "rally the armies of compassion" spread throughout America, CSOSA announced it had assigned a dozen offenders presently living in D.C. halfway houses to eight faith-based institutions "for mentoring services."
Among those providing mentoring relationships to D.C. offenders were seven local protestant churches and, according to CSOSA's press release, "the Church of Scientology."
Now let us pause.
Theology is not my long suit. Scientologists are in a better position to discuss their religion. Reportedly Scientology was founded in the 1950s by Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, a George Washington University student from 1930 to 1932 who died in 1986.
According to several published accounts, L. Ron Hubbard believed a galactic ruler named Xenu banished alien evil spirits called body thetans to Earth more than 75 million years ago, and that said thetans were implanted in volcanoes.
Hubbard, it has been reported, wrote that the volcanoes exploded and the thetans invaded mankind, accounting for our present ills. Although the human mind and body are infected with beaucoup body thetans, there are, the stories go, specific instructions advanced by Hubbard for undoing the damage done by the galactic cataclysm -- a process called auditing. If faithfully followed, and carefully monitored by an E-meter (two wired metal cans capable of detecting truth), a person can overcome negative experiences, undergo a regeneration of native abilities, and find a natural spiritual awareness of self, reaching the highest level in Scientology teachings called Operating Thetan or OT.
Or something like that.
Now there are those who insist that Scientology, a truly worldwide movement, is a paranoid cult possessed with pseudo-scientific theories -- despite its recognition as a religion for nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service in 1993.
Scientologists, on the other hand, reject that characterization, strongly asserting that their religion provides the means by which people can find spiritual fulfillment and improve their lives, and they cite Scientology community projects to prove their point.
The debate rages in religious circles and even in some foreign governments.
This much is true from the written words of Ashcroft and Williams: both look to CSOSA to help returning offenders.
And after speaking this week with Cedric Hendricks, CSOSA's acting associate director for legislative, intergovernmental and public affairs, it can be confirmed that courtesy of his agency, and in the spirit of George Bush's faith-based initiative, the Church of Scientology has now entered into a mentoring relationship with a D.C. offender.
Way to go, Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Williams . . . or didn't you two know?
One last question. Before groups in the religious mainstream and on the right and left reach High C in their protests against the government's entanglement with Scientology and the District's violent offenders, how many of your own institutions are on CSOSA's sign-up sheet to help those returning to become law-abiding and productive citizens?