A couple of weeks ago, visitors to the Hollywood Community Police Station, a division of the Los Angeles Police Department, would’ve seen a giant kiosk consisting of a large TV flanked by posters and pamphlets discussing human rights, children, how to cleanse your body of drugs, and how to achieve happiness.
If that seems like a strange mix… you’re right. The display was put there by Scientologists.
Why would Scientologists have access to a police station?
And why would a police station promote Scientology?
And who approved this religious propaganda, anyway?
A reader who wishes to remain anonymous took those pictures and alerted American Atheists earlier this month. Attorney Geoff Blackwell made clear to the LAPD that these kiosks — who knew how many there were across Los Angeles? — amounted to an establishment of religion by the government because it failed all three prongs of the Lemon test.
The placement of these kiosks in police department facilities violates each prong of the Lemon test. First, no secular purpose is served by placing a large fixture designed solely to promote the tenets of Scientology in the lobby of an LAPD facility. Second, the primary effect of permitting the kiosk to be placed in such a prominent location is to advance the interests of the Church of Scientology. Third, the size and other unique characteristics of this display necessarily create excessive entanglement between the Church and the LAPD, given the discussions that must have taken place between LAPD and the Church about delivery and placement of the display, its power requirements, the restocking of pamphlets, and other related issues.
The AALC respectfully requests that the LAPD remedy this violation by removing all such displays promoting Scientology from all facilities under the LAPD’s control in the next ten business days. If the displays are not removed, the AALC will assist our complainant in pursuing legal remedies for this violation, for which the LAPD may be held financially responsible.
The letter also asked for all public records regarding these displays in order to figure out how this happened.
It worked. While AA was told there were no public records relating to the displays (more on that in a second), Richard Tefank, the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Police Commission, wrote back within 48 hours to say the Hollywood kiosk had been taken down and that there were no other displays promoting any religion anywhere in the LAPD.
As far as Blackwell is concerned, that’s a victory.
“When a massive display promoting a particular religious viewpoint appears in a police station, that is immediately cause for concern,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, staff attorney for American Atheists. “We’re pleased that the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners took immediate action to resolve this issue. A police facility is where crime victims go in times of acute emotional distress. Not only it is beyond inappropriate for them to encounter a church’s recruitment campaign, it’s unconstitutional as well. People depend on the police for real-world assistance, not religious endorsements.”
The kiosk’s origins remain a mystery. That means a kiosk was installed in a police station with no public request to put it there, no public record of who created the display, and no public indication of who gave them a green light.
I knew Scientology thrived on secrecy, but this is just weird.