On December 17, a letter was sent to President Donald Trump regarding the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill seeking to reduce the risk of recidivism among the estimated 181,000 convicts in the federal prison system. The contents of the letter, urging the president to “oppose the Cotton-Kennedy amendments to the First Step Act,” were par for the course; what raised many an eyebrow around Washington, however, was the inclusion of the Church of Scientology.
In addition to the Scientology logo, which resided among the 22 criminal justice reform organizations at the top of the missive, alongside respected bipartisan outfits like the U.S. Justice Action Network and Americans for Prosperity, John Stanard, the Church’s national director of Social Betterment Programs and Policy, was listed as one of its signatories. When reached for comment, Sen. Cotton (R-AR) singled out the Church of Scientology’s inclusion.
The letter was crafted by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a nonprofit organization combatting the country’s strict mandatory-sentencing laws. Kevin Ring, the president of FAMM, explained Scientology’s presence in the letter: “We reached out to members of the Justice Roundtable through the listserv—that’s how we usually solicit folks who wanted to sign—and they were one of the groups that asked to sign.” (Indeed, Stanard is a member of the Justice Roundtable and the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition.) When pressed as to why they’d have an alleged abusive cult among its signatories, he added, “It’s worth us reconsidering.”
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