Congressman Danny K. Davis on Scientology: “They’re Not Kooks”

What do Scientologists and Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam share? They’ve got a friend in the congressman from Illinois.

By: Simon van Zuylen-Wood

Scientology’s national-affairs office opened this fall. Photograph by Lee Snider/Corbis.

Scientology has had a rough year. First, its meddling—partly exposed in a Vanity Fair cover story by Washington writer Maureen Orth—was presumed responsible for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s breakup. Now Scientology PR has its hands full deflecting talk that the charismatic con-artist cult leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie The Master was based on church founder L. Ron Hubbard.

However unpleasant the coverage has been, it didn’t deter Congressman Danny K. Davis, an Illinois Democrat, from attending—along with 1,000 Scientologists—the September grand opening of Scientology’s “national affairs” lobbying office.

Davis wasn’t the only Congress member to attend the ceremony at the Fraser Mansion headquarters, which closed down the street in front of the Dupont Circle building—Indiana Republican Dan Burton and Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee were there, too—but he was the only one with a habit of teaming up with controversial fringe religious groups.

Davis’s bizarre clerical proclivities were last scrutinized in 2004, after a video still emerged from a Unification Church ceremony held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Davis could be seen wearing white gloves, presenting a gold crown on a velvet pillow to church leader, Washington Times founder, and convicted tax felon Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Moon then anointed himself “humanity’s savior, Messiah, Returning Lord, and True Parent” before taking credit for reforming the souls of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, who he said had “mended their ways and been reborn as new persons.” Davis, who had recently appeared at a 3,000-person Moon rally in Jerusalem, later brushed off the incident, comparing it to a Boy Scout ritual.

Before that, as a Chicago alderman and county commissioner, the congressman ran into trouble for his ties with the Nation of Islam. Running for mayor in 1991, Davis campaigned with allies of Louis Farrakhan. In 1996, the Austin Voice, a Chicago paper, reported that Davis had accepted cash from Muammar Qaddafi through Farrakhan, a friend of the late Libyan dictator’s. (Davis denied the report and filed a $10-million libel suit against the paper, though nothing came of it and Voice editor Brad Cummings says he never published a correction.)

So why the strange bedfellows? For his part, the eight-term congressman says he owes his relationship with the Unification Church to its devotion to “peace” and “parenthood.” And the Scientologists? They’ve been instrumental in lobbying for the Second Chance Act, legislation Davis backed to help felons with life after prison.

“I don’t believe any of these people are kooks or way-out people or anything like that,” Davis says. “I believe in democracy. I also believe in religious freedom.”

For what it’s worth, Davis genuinely didn’t seem aware of Scientology’s more bizarre aspects, from its disavowal of psychiatry to its creed that we’re all “Thetans” from other planets inhabiting human shells. Above all, he was intent on setting the record straight on one particular incident: “The thing that I guess I’ve never understood is why people persist that I carried a crown on a pillow to Reverend Moon. I never did. I took it to his wife.”

This article appears in the November 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.