The door is always locked, a curious twist for a storefront literacy project, and the windows are surprisingly dark.
Once inside the room at 700 N. Killingsworth, there are a half-dozen empty tables, a large dog with a ball in his mouth, and shelves of books:
The infamous “Green Eggs and Ham.” A “Star Wars” novelization. And — oh, yes –myriad titles such as “Learning How to Learn,” “How to Use a Dictionary” and “Small Common Words Defined,” all “based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard,” the pulp-writing messiah of the Church of Scientology.
Hillary Larson, executive director of the Portland branch of HELP — the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project — seems perplexed that Hubbard’s influence on their learning curriculum might be cause for alarm.
“My attention is so focused on literacy and education that bringing religion into it is a waste of time,” said Larson, granddaughter of the late Oregon transportation czar Glenn Jackson.
“Scientology is an important part of my life, but my interest in life is education. That’s not the purpose of the literacy project. Never will be.”
In the last four years, Larson’s program — which provides free tutoring for all ages — has drawn support from local civic leaders and politicians. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and city Commissioner Jim Francesconi toured the operation when it was parked on North Mississippi. Cmdr. Derrick Foxworth of the Northeast Precinct and Johnnie A. Gage, formerly of House of Umoja, spoke at the Killingsworth address in December.
“Did I know she was involved in Scientology? It did give me pause,” Francesconi said. “But she was teaching kids to read. What impressed me is she’s hung in there for a long time. There aren’t many people who will sit in a storefront for a month, much less four years.”
In recent weeks, however, HELP-Portland — which sits directly across the street from PCC’s Cascade campus and a block from Jefferson High School — has been criticized as a gateway into the controversial “church.”
Porter Raper, an English faculty member at PCC, argues that HELP is a “recruiting front” for Scientology: “This is nothing more than a veiled attempt to become legitimate in our community.”
Scientology is a wide-eyed mixture of theology and science fiction uncorked by Hubbard in the early 1950s. Among his teachings are notions of reincarnation, landing stations on Venus, a 75 million-year-old tyrant named Xenu, and the evils of psychiatry and yawning.
Raper is particularly concerned that Larson is recruiting on the PCC campus for volunteers to fill three Vista positions that will allow HELP to dramatically expand its operating hours.
“They have this federal money,” Raper said, “and it troubles me. They should not have this seal of approval.”
HELP’s Vista slots are administered through the Corporation for National Service. Javier La Fianza, the agency’s area manager, said the literacy project’s L.A. branch has five Vista volunteers and he’s had no complaints about any proselytizing for Scientology.
“If it were to come to our attention they were promoting the church in a religious way,” La Fianza said, “we’d pull the grant. Faith-based organizations are not allowed to use Vista and federal resources to promote their faith.”
David Touretzky, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who’s been dueling the Scientologists on free-speech issues for years, argues, however, “The cult is taking a more subtle approach with this literacy stuff.”
The principles of “study technology” offered at the North Killingsworth office, Touretzky argues, “are loaded with significance in the Scientology religion. . . . Study Tech actually helps lay the groundwork for introducing Scientology into the schools.”
For now, Larson admits she has no time to address “judgments based on rumors.” While waiting for her Vista reinforcements, she’s too busy unlocking the door for prospective tutors and kids who are reeling from a collision with a “misunderstood word.”
© 2001 OregonLive.com. All Rights Reserved.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Regarding Steve Duin’s column, “Xenu and the evil yawns are nowhere in sight” (May 31), I always think it’s a shame when people think it’s cute to ridicule the religion or deeply held beliefs of others.
The mocked beliefs or practices seem usually to be those of a minority religious group about which the general public knows little, and so is more susceptible to a bizarre depiction of its beliefs and practices. (We are unlikely to see an article in The Oregonian describing Christianity as a “wide-eyed mixture of . . ..”) Use of the word “cult” is usually a signal as to the writer’s level of tolerance.
Duin, and his source at Portland Community College, Porter Local News, Raper, are examples that we have some way to go on the tolerance front.
Effective efforts to feed people, teach them to read and the like, should generally be applauded, not attacked, regardless of the person or group performing the efforts.
CLARKE BALCOM Southeast Portland
Regarding the May 31 column by Steve Duin, I am shocked that your paper would print such a thing in this day and age of religious tolerance and anti-bigotry/anti-hate speech.
Duin makes it clear that he has seen that the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project (HELP) run by Hillary Larson is a service provided by her to the community. And indeed there is no “recruitment” into the Church of Scientology.
What I find to be downright insulting and showing a total lack of education is Duin’s description of my religion. (His column was) a purposeful and intentional slam on something he has no real information on except rumors and biased judgments, plus name calling.
I have been a Scientologist in this town for 26 years. I have worked at my church for 15 years, ensuring that our church is an asset to this community by doing everything from canned food drives to working on the Steering Committee for the Coalition Against Hate Crimes. Volunteers from my church donate hundreds of hours of work each year. These fine contributions you do not take the time to print.
GWEN BARNARD Director of special affairs
Church of Scientology
Celebrity Centre Portland