Let’s Celebrate National Sunshine Week
by Heber C. Jentzsch
March 17, 2005
This week is the first National Sunshine Week, a project initiated by news organizations and universities in the United States concerned about the growth of government secrecy.
It is almost a cliché to describe freedom of information as the lifeblood of democracy. Transparency in government was recognised as such a key element to the preservation of freedom and the rights to which we are entitled that the United Nations General Assembly, in its very first session in 1946, adopted Resolution 59(I):
“Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.”
It is through freedom of information and open government laws that researchers and whistleblowers obtained documents that, when exposed by Congress last year, finally compelled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to order that all psychiatric anti-depressants carry “black box” warnings that they “increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior” in children who take them. That means lives saved – thanks to the FOIA.
It could have happened earlier. In 1989, the Church-sponsored Citizens Commission on Human Rights used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain FDA Adverse Reaction Reports on the first Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) marketed. The documents revealed that more than 500 deaths had been linked to the drug and that 83 children between the ages of 4 and 18 had attempted suicide. Two aged five had actually killed themselves, and 77 experienced hostility, agitation and intentional injury. CCHR and medical experts presented the evidence to an FDA psychopharmacological drugs advisory committee in 1991, but a panel of nine psychiatrists and a psychologist ignored it and other testimony provided by parents and family members.
Nonetheless, CCHR, along with family members and medical experts, persisted until the evidence became too overwhelming for the FDA to continue to ignore.
Churches of Scientology have been leading users of the FOIA for three decades, both to establish a substantial body of legal precedents in favor of citizens’ rights and to bring about social reforms. Our churches have published “how to” manuals in the United States, France and Germany that thousands of people have used to obtain information under Freedom of Information laws.
“Freedom will be bereft of all effectiveness if the people have no access to information. Access to information is basic to the democratic way of life. The tendency to withhold information from the people at large is therefore to be strongly checked”, said the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression in 1995.
The price of freedom, according to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is “Constant alertness, Constant willingness to fight back. There is no other price.”
National Sunshine Week is a way to fight back at official secrecy that interferes with the public’s right to know and so undermines the essence of our democracy. Let’s celebrate it and do all we can to keep Freedom of Information alive and functioning.
Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch is President of the Church of Scientology International