Shelley Berkley, representing Nevada’s First District in Congress, speaking to Scientologists in Las Vegas
Three U.S. congressmen and a top-level government official attended the opening of the Church of Scientology's National Office in Washington, D.C., Thursday.
Their attendance marked a significant endorsement from members of a government that was once partially at war with the organization.
Lawmakers in attendance were Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton and Illinois Democratic Rep. Danny Davis. Liz Gibson, Senior Program Manager at the Federal Emergency Management Agency was also in attendance.
Jackson Lee applauded
"I want to thank L. Ron Hubbard for recognizing that courage is not rewarded but it is valued," said the congresswoman. L. Ron Hubbard was the church's founder.
"And to be able to have the wonderment of people coming together and ensuring that people come together for peace. That's what I see in the Church, that you have come together for peace. I welcome and support that," she said.
Burton and Davis lauded the church's efforts in pushing Congress to pass legislation targeted toward child medication and the criminal justice system. Gibson praised the disaster relief the Church of Scientology has provided in times of crisis.
Church of Scientology spokesperson Karin Poux told TheDC, "None of the US government officials who spoke at the opening celebration are members of the Church of Scientology."
The office, located in Dupont Circle in Washington, was opened two blocks down the street from the L. Ron Hubbard House, once called the Founding Church of Scientology.
Hubbard purchased the house in 1955, just two years after the first Scientology church was incorporated in Camden, N.J. The building, raided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January 1963, now serves as a museum for the organization.
The organization was later raided by the FBI in 1977 during the agency's investigation of Operation Snow White.
Launched in 1973, Operation Snow White, was the single largest penetration of federal agencies, and theft of government documents, by a non-state actor.
Set in motion by the church's Guardian's Office, now called the Office of Special Affairs, the Church of Scientology sought to purge the U.S. government of any negative information it held about the organization.
The organization has sought to combat its infamous reputation as a cult for the better part of its existence. Governments around the world primarily consider the Church of Scientology to be a business, not a religion. The Canadian government, however, considers the church a criminal organization.
The Church of Scientology later claimed a major victory against the U.S. government in 1993 when it was granted tax-exempt status. David Miscavige, chairman of the Religious Technology Center of the Church of Scientology, happily declared at the time, "The war is over."
When asked about the change in tone with the U.S. government, the Church of Scientology had a different interpretation of events.
"The Church of Scientology has never been at odds with the U.S. government, although the Church did have problems in the past with individuals in some government agencies, due mainly to the dissemination of false reports about Dianetics and Scientology," said Karin Pouw, spokesperson for the Church of Scientology.
"Those problems are long past. Over the years, as we have proven those reports to be false, relations have improved,"
A 1997 New York Times
piece about the matter labeled the decision by the U.S. government as "an invaluable public relations tool in Scientology's worldwide campaign for acceptance as a mainstream religion."
Pouw did acknowledge, however, the importance of receiving tax exempt status from the IRS.
"Certainly, the recognition by the Internal Revenue Service of our tax-exempt status in 1993 was an important milestone in the Church's relationship with the government as it enabled us to devote more of our resources to helping people," said Pouw.
At the event on Thursday, Miscavige said that the National Office was "designed to give back to a United States government that steadfastly guaranteed our religious rights - the very freedom that allows us to do what we are doing today."