The Church of Scientology has crafted a vision of society free of war, crime, drug abuse, illiteracy, and the materialistic philosophy that modern psychology/psychiatry has fostered in the world. Church leaders believe that just as Scientology assists its members to rid themselves of the myriad problems that inhibit their day-to-day functioning, it should be possible to target specific problems (drug use, crime, illiteracy) that are undermining the fabric of society. Subsequently, individual Scientologists began to develop a set of specialized organizations to apply L. Ron Hubbard's wisdom to specific concerns. As these organizations proliferated, the church formed the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE) in 1988 to coordinate, publicize, and inform church members and the general public of the various programs. ABLE has its own headquarters in Hollywood, part of the growing complex of facilities that have made Hollywood the administrative center of the church internationally.
Four structures associated with ABLE deal specifically with the problems of drug use, crime, illiteracy, and the declining moral fabric of society. Narconon, the oldest of the social service programs, can be traced to William Benitez, an inmate at the Arizona State Penitentiary, who benefited from Hubbard's Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought. Applying Hubbard's ideas, he was finally able to free himself from drugs, the basis of his criminal activity, and soon concluded that Hubbard's teachings might also be relevant to his fellow prisoners. He was allowed to start a pilot program that he led during the several years left in his sentence. Its initial success won the prison administration's support for its continuance.
After leaving prison in 1970, Benitez settled in Los Angeles where, with the blessing of Hubbard, the church assisted him in establishing a non-profit corporation, open an office, and initiate a program in several correctional institutions modeled on the one in Arizona. Over the years, the Narconon organization redirected its primary efforts toward drug addiction within the general public and began opening residential facilities where individuals could finish the entire program in a supportive environment. At the same time the prison-oriented program continued to grow, and was reorganized as a separate organization, called Criminon. Meanwhile, Narconon centers have sprung up everywhere the church has built any strength.
Narconon gave birth to what has become a standard addition to Scientology's membership training, the Purification Program. It developed from the recognition that many church members have previously been drug users and almost all suffered from the cumulative effects of the large variety of questionable substances that now permeate western society. Hubbard came to believe that the accumulation of drugs and other toxins in the body was forming a crucial barrier to spiritual progress.
Scientology is a literate faith that requires the reading of numerous texts. Church members' difficulties in reading led Hubbard to develop manuals on such elementary topics as How to Learn and How to Study. Then, in the late 1960s, several public school teachers (who happened to be Scientologists) experimented with Hubbard's educational material in their classrooms. They established Applied Scholastics to expand the application of the study material in private and public school settings. Applied Scholastics, especially its programs aimed at the illiterate, has expanded internationally with affiliates currently functioning across North America and Europe, with outposts in Africa and Asia.
In the last years of his life, Hubbard authored what he saw as a basic moral code for the modern world that was presented as twenty-one precepts, to which he appended an explanatory essay. He termed this The Way to Happiness. In the 1980s, an informal effort by church members in Florida led to the formation of the Way to Happiness Foundation, which now oversees the translation of The Way to Happiness into different languages and coordinates its printing and distribution in mass quantities, especially targeted to influential community members, police officers, soldiers, and students.
Scientology's most controversial program for the improvement of society is not directly related to ABLE. It developed from the early antipathy that Hubbard had toward psychiatry in general, with a special animus toward procedures such as electric shock treatments, surgical operations such as lobotomies, and the use of mood-altering drugs. In 1969, the church established the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which has since spearheaded a program to challenge experimental psychiatric treatments that may have violated patient rights, to ban mood-altering drugs (especially Valium, Ritalin, and Prozac), and to publicize cases of abusive and illegal behavior by psychiatrists.