A MAJOR anti-drugs festival taking place in Edinburgh this week is being backed by a controversial quasi-religious organisation.
The Say No to Drugs Festival has attracted high-profile sponsorship from the Church of Scientology which counts celebrities such as John Travolta and Lisa Marie Presley among its members.
But the festival has been criticised by leading councillors and churches, who say scientologists are not the best people to be associated with the two-day event.
Over the last 50 years, Scientology has attracted almost continual controversy, being blamed for general harassment of the public as well as more specific upsets such as the breakdown of Tom Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman.
This year the organisation was ordered to pay 6 million in damages to former member Lawrence Wollsersheim who claimed he was pushed to the brink of suicide in a lawsuit in the United States.
Delaying tactics by the organisation meant it took 22 years for the action to be settled in his favour.
In another case in France, it was fined 5000 for keeping the names of people in its recruitment database after they had asked for them to be removed.
And in April it forced Google, one of the internet’s most popular search engines, to remove a link to a website which portrayed it as a money-grabbing cult.
Jive and swing band The Jive Aces, who have toured Europe and the US promoting Scientology, have organised the anti-drugs event at the Ross Open Air Theatre in West Princes Street Gardens today and tomorrow.
The group will be joined by top Hearts striker Marc de Vries and Hibs players Paul Fenwick and Alan Reid, and the former Scottish international hooker Frank Laidlaw.
Councillor Steve Cardownie, the city’s culture and leisure leader, said people who attend the festival should be made aware of who is behind it.
He said: " I would have thought we at the council would frown on the Ross Theatre being used by the Church of Scientology.
"It is a legal organisation but people have to be aware of what they’re attending. People may think they are attending an anti-drugs festival and then find they are approached by Scientologists. I’ve no evidence that will be the case but people should always be aware of who is sponsoring an event."
A spokesman for the Church of Scotland said: "Any event of this kind should only be undertaken with the advice and co-operation of the public bodies experienced and responsible for this area."
But today Graeme Wilson, the Say No to Drugs campaign manager for the Church of Scientology, said there had been ample publicity of the organisation’s involvement in the event and that the message of the festival was to be strictly anti-drugs.
He said: "I can understand the concerns myself but the purpose of the event and of any material we give out is for drugs education. None of the information we will be giving out will have any message about Scientology."
Nadia Munno, a member of The Jive Aces, said there would not be any representatives of the Church of Scientology at the event. She said: " This is not going to be a religious event. It is an event that will give the message to the people of Scotland not to take drugs."
The festival in Edinburgh will be held between noon and 2pm on August 22 and 23.