Church of Scientology Signs Letter From Group of FIRST STEP Supporters

Church rep. among group reaching out to Trump

The logo of the Church of Scientology / Getty Images

A representative of the Church of Scientology is among 20 signatories to a letter released Monday calling on President Donald Trump to reject changes to the FIRST STEP Act, the criminal justice bill currently pending in the Senate.

The church's logo is displayed prominently alongside a number of others, and one of its representatives is the last signatory to it.

The letter is a collaboration put together by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an organization which has publicly supported FIRST STEP. The bill is expected to get a vote on the floor of the Senate this week, although not before hearing amendments, including three introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and John N. Kennedy (R., La.).

The Cotton-Kennedy amendments have garnered significant pushback from FIRST STEP proponents, who accuse the two senators of trying to place a "poison pill" in the bill (Cotton has fired back, claiming that his changes will "limit the damage" FIRST STEP might impose). The Thursday letter comes from a number of opponents of the amendments who claim that they will "upset the delicate balance that has made movement of this bill possible" and ask Trump to oppose them.

The letter's signatories, 20 in all, represent a cross-section of the pro-reform left and right. It includes a number of prominent conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation's PAC arm, the American Conservative Union, and a number of members of the Koch policy network. But one signatory in particular sticks out: John Stanard, listed as the National Director, Social Betterment Programs and Policy, of the Church of Scientology.

The church has a long history clouded by controversial allegations. Founded in the 1950s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology claims to offer "a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one's true spiritual nature and one's relationship to self."

But critics have attacked it as "a rich and vengeful religious cult" and "a cross between the Moonies and the Mafia." Former members of the church have claimed that it engages in abusive practices, including blackmail of members based on secrets disclosed during "auditing" sessions. (The church has rejected these allegations.)

The church has previously attempted to connect with the criminal justice reform movement. Stanard, who has worked for the church for 40 years, is a member of the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, a working group of the Justice Roundtable that calls its mission "to build a long-term, sustainable movement that ends mass incarceration and to support restorative and healing alternatives for our communities."

Scientology lobbyist Greg Mitchell has been lobbying in support of criminal justice reform on behalf of the Church since the Obama administration, the Daily Caller reported. Mitchell was identified by the pro-reform Justice Action Network executive director as part of "the #cjreform squad" who attended Trump's official endorsement of the bill in May, suggesting he has connections to pro-FIRST STEP groups like the JAN.

FAMM did not return a request for comment for this article as to why the Church was included as a signatory to the letter, or if it generally partners with or endorses the activities of Scientology.