Scientology-Backed Group Lobbied Against Texas Mental Health Bill

A Church of Scientology-founded group was in touch with Gov. Greg Abbott in the lead-up to his surprising veto

The Scientology building on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on March 23rd, 2015. Credit: George Rose/Getty

A group associated with the Church of Scientology lobbied against a vetoed Texas bill that would have allowed doctors in the state to detain dangerous and mentally ill patients, The Texas Tribune reports.

The paper has obtained records showing that a conglomerate group that included the Scientology-founded Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) sent information to the state's Republican governor, Greg Abbott, who vetoed the bill. (Abbott is Christian.)

The legislation would have given emergency room doctors a four-hour window in which they could detain patients who were mentally ill or appeared unsafe until authorities could assess the situation. Two weeks before Abbott's veto, a group calling itself the SB 359 Veto Coalition hand-delivered a letter to the governor opposing the bill, the paper reports. The bill had passed through the state House and Senate with ease, and the governor's decision to stop the bill surprised many.

Other groups who were involved in the Veto Coalition include the Texas Home School Coalition, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the anti-vaccine group Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education and Texans for Accountable Government. A LULAC staffer said his organization thought the law could be used unconstitutionally against non-English speakers.

"I don't think that it is very beneficial to try to break down those grassroots organizations," Johana Scot, the head of the Parent Guidance Center, which signed the Veto Coalition letter, told the Tribune.

Lee Spiller, a lobbyist for the Church of Scientology-backed CCHR, which is against psychiatry, was also in touch with the governor's office; the Tribune reports that he sent an email to the state's First Lady the day after the veto. "Please pass on my warmest regards and sincere thanks for upholding individual liberties and restoring my faith in our constitutional form of government," he reportedly wrote. "I have not forgotten about your last message. Please consider yourself invited to our office, and any event we hold, any time."

When he vetoed the bill, Abbott voiced sentiments that had appeared in the coalition's letter, saying it raised "serious constitutional concerns," among other things.

A group of doctors had previously sent Abbott a letter warning him of the CCHR's association with the Church of Scientology. "Their positions are well outside the mainstream," they wrote.

The governor "should have reached out to physicians and other medical personnel who provide care in the real world of our emergency rooms before vetoing this legislation," said the Texas Medical Association in a statement, which lobbied in favor of the bill.