Scientology formally opened its new Phoenix Ideal Org facility on Saturday with a celebration attended by hundreds of the religion's followers.
The grand opening near the former home of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard follows a bitter eviction process for the former tenants of the building complex at the northeast corner of Indianola and 44th Street, which New Times detailed in our October 13, 2011 feature story, "Alien Invasion."
It also follows severe criticism of the religion's mission of recent years to build Ideal Orgs in major U.S. cities. Critics including former top Scientology officials like Debbie Cook have accused the organization and its leader, David Miscavige, of greedily sucking its members dry with incessant fund-raising tactics for real-estate projects that don't advance members' needs.
According to a Scientology press release, the facility will feature an "expansive" public information center, a chapel to be used for weddings and "Sunday services," and plenty of office space for its counseling programs. (The release incorrectly states the location of the facility -- it's actually just south of Indian School Road.)
Mayor Greg Stanton spoke at the celebration, and was quoted as saying:
I consider myself to be the luckiest mayor today. Because there is only one city on Earth that can claim the title 'Birthplace of Scientology', and I am proud that it's right here in Phoenix. So congratulations to the Church of Scientology for your amazing Ideal Org.
(Stanton, through a spokesman, tells New Times he remembers saying he felt like a "lucky" mayor, not the "luckiest," but other than that he says the quote is accurate.)
Tony Malaj, the executive director of support services for the Higley Unified School District, implied in his own address to Scientologists that their programs were being used in Higley schools. Malaj reportedly said:
There are teachers in Arizona public schools and charter schools today who are breaking through barriers and achieving a new level of success with their students as a result. I want you to know that you are helping those of us in education to achieve our mission.
(We put in a call to Malaj for clarification about his statement. He tells New Times that, actually, he doesn't personally know any Arizona teacher or public schools, including Higley's, that use Scientology programs. However, he's chatted with teachers in the past who claimed they used elements of Scientology programs to help students learn, he says. Malaj adds that he doesn't know whether those teachers told their students how they were using methods that originated with the Church of Scientology.)
Naturally, Scientology leader David Miscavige was on hand at the grand opening to whip up some excitement among the troops:
You are about to embark on a new chapter in your history. And it all begins with an undying pledge to uphold that rare spirit of competence, compassion and benevolence with which L. Ron Hubbard originally founded Scientology. For only in that way will we ever achieve the Aims of Scientology, and thus that world without war; a world of which we can be proud, where the able can prosper, where honest beings have rights and all are free to rise to greater heights.
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Of course, Scientologists who wish to rise to greater heights within their religion soon find out the process is nothing like "free."
Scientology's Phoenix Ideal Org will be open to the public, but don't expect staff members there to talk about Xenu the Galactic Overlord, or even acknowledge the religion's sci-fi underpinnings. Instead, recruiters will want you to focus on the supposed benefits of studying Scientology, such as how it will supposedly make you smarter, more successful and an all-around great person.
Once you're interested, prepare to break out the wallet. It'll take a lot of book sales and donations to keep this new Ideal Org staffed.