'Simpsons' actress stirs up Springfield with schools program linked to Scientology

The Sun-Times, Chicago/May 10, 2011

Springfield - Bart Simpson is creating a stir at the Statehouse.

The actress who lends her voice to the iconic "The Simpsons" character wants children to love their parents, not break the law and treat others as they want to be treated.

The character-building "Good Choices" program that espouses those virtues and that Nancy Cartwright developed through her non-profit organization could become an accepted tool for public school teachers to teach character development under an Illinois House resolution.

The Emmy Award-winning actress acknowledged in an online video that her program is based on "The Way to Happiness," a book written by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology of which she is a member.

That tie to Scientology has triggered a backlash from some Republicans, who question why the state would put its imprimatur on Hubbard's controversial teachings and expose schoolchildren to them, albeit indirectly.

State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), the lead sponsor of House Resolution 254, said even though he's read but three pages of Hubbard's "Dianetics," he is not interested in promoting the Florida-based religion that includes Cartwright and actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta as devotees.

"I've been assured it's not a Scientology promotion," Burke said. "It's a separate not-for-profit. It's just basic good manners, good principles that kids sometimes don't get exposed to in some of the more challenged areas of our state."

Burke's resolution praises the program for teaching "common sense guidelines covering specific tools to help children evaluate situations and make good decisions that will improve life for themselves and others" and encourages its use in state classrooms.

Burke said he was approached about including the Cartwright program by a non-profit organization known as the Good Citizens Foundation, which is headed by a Sycamore chiropractor named Jim McCoy.

The legislator said he is convinced there is no Church of Scientology dogma in Cartwright's material and only a brief mention of Hubbard "on a back page." The name of his book is featured on the material's front cover, based on a representation on Cartwright's website.

Initial reservations set aside, Burke said he became enthusiastic about backing the resolution because it would be "fun to have Bart Simpson's voice down there."

Cartwright is scheduled to testify on behalf of the resolution before a Wednesday House panel and will attend a Springfield reception Tuesday night.

She could not be reached Monday. But a statement from her publicist said, "The importance of education and the teaching of good values, morals and respect for others have been priorities in her efforts. Ms. Cartwright believes this type of curriculum should be integral to the formal learning process."

Republicans on the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee initially were unaware that Cartwright's program was influenced by a Hubbard book. Upon learning that, the panel's ranking Republican voiced concern over the resolution.

"Would we suggest the KKK for something like this?" asked Rep. Jerry Mitchell (R-Sterling), a former school superintendent. "This might be something for a select private school, but I'm not sure it's germane for a public school."

"I just think we're dabbling in a mix we don't need to be dabbling in," Mitchell said.

In 2009, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times reported that Cartwright joined the Scientology church in the 1980s and donated $10 million to the organization in 2007.

The newspaper reported that Cartwright carried the organization's second-highest ranking, Operating Thetan VII.

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