ST. PETERSBURG – The Tampa Housing Authority and musician Isaac Hayes announced Wednesday the start ofa public housing literacy project using study techniques developed by the founder of the Church of Scientology International.
But neither religion nor recruitment for the controversial church will be the program’s focus, organizers said at a news conference before Hayes addressed the annual meeting of the Florida Association of Housing and Redevelopment Organization Wednesday.
Hayes, a Scientologist who made his name in music and acting two decades ago, described himself as international spokesman for World Literacy Crusade. It was founded by ministers Alfreddie Johnson Jr. and Fred Shaw Jr. of California after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Johnson, also on hand at the beach resort meeting site along with Shaw, said the crusade is associated with Applied Scholastics International. That nonprofit organization promotes use of “study technology” developed by L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who founded Scientology.
Over its 40-year history, the Clearwater-based church has won tax-exempt status, fought allegations of monetary exploitation and mental coercion, and thrived through perceptions of being more cult than religion.
Eleven of its top leaders were sent to jail for infiltrating and burglarizing more than 100 government and private agencies in the 1980s. In 1992, Scientology’s Toronto branch was convicted of planting spies in Canadian government offices.
Scientologists use a course of study to try to rid themselves of unconscious images of physical and emotional pain built up over a lifetime.
People can pay up to several thousand dollars for each course.
Tampa Housing Authority Director Audley Evans said his agency was thinking only about education when it got involved with the program and helped arrange for it to come to the Audley Evans Multi-Purpose Youth Center in College Hill Sept. 5.
Evans said the program, which will be voluntary and continue indefinitely, will be funded by Bradley & Bradley Development Group Inc. of Tampa.
That company was involved in building the youth center named for Evans and recently became a joint-venture partner with public housing residents for no-bid construction work worth more than $14 million at North Boulevard Homes.
Company President Jim Bradley said he will give as much as $25,000 to the project because he and his partner, Tom Bradley, are “focused on things that help the community.”
The literacy material, already used elsewhere, teaches children and adults how to study by breaking down barriers to education, Johnson said. He called illiteracy the root of crime, drug addiction and other social ills.
World Literacy Crusade claims some two dozen programs around the world. Most are funded privately, Johnson said, but at least one in Memphis received a federal Community Development Block Grant.
Johnson said he didn’t know of any program participant later joining Scientology. He described himself as a Baptist minister at True Faith Christian Center and New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Compton, Calif.
Priscilla Coates, head of a Cult Awareness Network office in Glendale, Calif., said a Rev. Alfreddie Johnson is identified in a 1995 Scientology magazine as taking Scientology classes. And World Literacy Crusade literature encourages people to send tax-deductible contributions to an address in Clearwater.