by David W. Oaks — last modified Jan 26, 2009 12:50 PM
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MindFreedom asked for the agency funded by taxpayers to be Ray’s “general guardian,” along with the church that owns the agency, to speak out about against forced electroshock. So far they have refused. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] communications director Miriam Woolbert said that ELCA has received many complaints. But so far ELCA refuses to speak out. And Ms. Woolbert has become a bit sarcastic. Read this remarkable e-mail exchange.

by David Oaks, Director, MindFreedom

MindFreedomgot another official response from the church that owns Ray’s”guardian” agency, but not the response we had hoped for.

We got a bit of sarcasm instead, and that e-mail exchange is at bottom.

But let’s identify the organizations and individuals first.

The agency charged with being Ray’s “general guardian” is Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (LSSMN).

LSSMNis not to be confused with a different type of guardian, Ray’s”guardian ad litem,” Terri Bradley, who directly supervises Ray’sshock. A TV station mis-reported that Ms. Bradley works for LSSMN, shedoes not.

While LSSMN does not directly supervise theelectroshock of Ray, they could speak out against forced shock, andsupport Ray’s campaign.

Instead, in a variety of ways, LSSMN has been an obstacle to Ray’s campaign.

Whatis remarkable is that LSSMN is owned by the six Minnesota “Synods” orbranches of the largest Lutheran church in the USA, and one of thelargest Christian denominations anywhere: the Evangelical LutheranChurch in America [ELCA] with headquarters in Chicago.

MindFreedomencouraged people to ask ELCA, in a civil way, to stand with Ray, andto speak out against the injustice of forced electroshock. After all,Lutherans have spoken out about other forms of injustice. And there areELCA churches practically everywhere in the USA, hopefully makingdialogue much easier.

Here is an opportunity to address a neglected social justice issue.

Unfortunately,ELCA has not expressed an interest in real dialogue on the emergingissue of mental health and human rights. Instead, ELCA issued a publicstatement that falsely claimed MindFreedom “misdirected” people aboutthe Ray Campaign.

On Christmas Eve, MindFreedom issued aresponse to ELCA’s public statement, asking “What would Jesus do aboutforced electroshock.”

MindFreedom’s response refuted ELCA’spublic statement. We repeated ourselves: We’re not saying ELCA is incharge of Ray’s shock, and we never have, but ELCA could stand up,speak out for human rights, and stop being an obstacle.

You may read MindFreedom’s open letter here:

Inresponse to MindFreedom’s open letter, many people again spoke out overthe holidays to ELCA, saying this time they were not misdirected byMindFreedom.

Unfortunately, ELCA’s director ofCommunication Services Miriam L. Woolbert decided to continue to e-mailout the same old note to all of these folks, continuing to falselyclaim MindFreedom “misdirected” people.

Psychologist and author Paula Caplan noted to MindFreedom she was still getting this boilerplate response.

So I phoned up Ms. Woolbert to find out why.

Ms.Woolbert said they have received hundreds of new complaints. When Ms.Woolbert returned from her Christmas holidays she said she had “220”e-mailed complaints waiting, leading her to say that she felt”persecuted.”

In fact, she even mentioned that I hade-mailed a few times. I did so because of technical problems related toe-mailing an alert and update to more than 10,000 people, but Ms.Woolbert apparently and unfortunately took this personally.

So she again sent out the same-old same-old, with the discredited claims.

So Ms. Woolbert, you tell me you feel “persecuted”?

MindFreedomhas called for civil communication with ELCA. We have not heard of anyuncivil or offensive communication to ELCA. If by “persecuted” you meanmany people are concerned about Ray, and have expressed this to ELCA,then you are misusing the word “persecuted.”

Your church is usedto controversy. Your church leader, Bishop Hanson, has courageouslyflown to the Middle East to address the conflict there along with otherLutheran leaders. Surely many people have expressed perspectives oncontroversies to ELCA before.

Let’s save the word “persecuted” for something that has meaning.

Now, Ray is someone who would understand the true meaning of the word “persecuted.”

Sadly,Ms. Woolbert and ELCA have also continued to try to wash its hands ofthe matter by saying that they do not have oversight of LSSMN.

PerhapsELCA is not providing adequate oversight to LSSMN and their othersocial service agencies. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Butlegally ELCA definitely has an ownership role, and morally they have anobligation to do something.

Ms. Woolbert then chose to add a little sarcasm to her e-mailed responses to MindFreedom.

Here’s a sentence from her e-mail of 30 December 2008 to me:

“Isuppose you are a licensed therapist who has had a long-timeprofessional relationship with the person about whom you are writing,so you know best what is right for him, eh?”

Given this level ofunprofessionalism, MindFreedom has now moved to directly contacting theindividual in charge of ELCA, Bishop Mark Hanson.

You may join in contacting him with civil notes of concern here:

Ms.Woolbert also said the proper procedure was to instead complain to thesix Synods that own LSSMN. Even though this looks like a bureaucraticdead end, MindFreedom immediately complied with her suggestion thatsame day, contacting all six Synods. After two weeks not one of themhas answered, even to acknowledge receipt of the concern.

Truly,it’s time for all of us Americans to make a friendly visit or phonecall to your local ELCA church. Given all the great and caringLutherans I know, I feel it is highly likely there are individualparticipants who will be concerned, or who at least will not reply withsarcasm.

You may find a local church with this handy ELCA congregation finder on the web, just plug in your zip code:

Whether or not you do such outreach, remember to contact Bishop Hanson here:

BELOWis the e-mail exchange between MindFreedom and Ms. Woolbert followingthe MindFreedom Christmas Eve Open Letter to ELCA which, again, you mayread here:

Thebelow begins with my reply to MindFreedom member Paula Caplan about howshe was still receiving the same old ELCA reply, even after the OpenLetter. I copied this to ELCA.


29 December 2008

From: David Oaks, Director, MindFreedom

To: Paula Caplan, PhD

Copy: ELCA  –

Dear Paula,

Becauseyou received the identical response from ELCA that you received twoweeks ago, even though we have made it clear we are not saying ELCA isin charge of Ray’s shock, nor that we are asking for any violation ofconfidentiality, I have phoned up Ms. Woolbert.

Unfortunately,she is not taking the public’s expression of concern really well. Ms.Woolbert said she returned to find 220 e-mails, and said she feels”persecuted.”

Since I’ve been a human rights activist for 32years, I take that word very seriously. I asked her if anyone in ELCAwas working at all on the topic of human rights and mental health, andshe said, “no.”

I therefore phoned and asked to speak withBishop Hanson. Violet in that office has asked me to e-mail BishopHanson. Although he is planning to leave soon for extensive travel(including in the Middle East), I am hoping he will have a chance totake a look at this.

I am concerned that our sincere request fordialogue has been met by Ms. Woolbert with words such as “misdirected”and “persecuted.” This seems unfair, and uncalled for.

I did talk to Ray today, his spirits are up, and he is someone who understands the true meaning of the word persecuted.

By the way, there is a contradiction in ELCA’s response:

1)On the one hand Ms. Woolbert is saying that certainly she could notviolate confidentiality of a client by speaking about Ray, whose storywas featured on National Public Radio.

2) On the other hand, Ms.Woolbert says ELCA has absolutely no control, oversight or directconnection with LSSMN which is overseeing this client.

If ELCAmust maintain confidentiality because Ray is technically their client,how can Ms. Woolbert claim ELCA has no legal or moral connection to thesituation?


David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International


On Dec 30, 2008, at 6:12 AM, wrote:

Mr. Oaks:

I said the ELCA did not have a staff person with mental healthresponsibilities. I did not say we were not “working at all on thetopic of human rights and mental health.”

I suppose you are a licensed therapist who has had a long-timeprofessional relationship with the person about whom you are writing,so you know best what is right for him, eh?

I suggested yesterday that, if you think the ELCA ought to have astatement or take a specific action on mental health issues, the way todo that is to propose such action through the synods. Starting with thesynods you *know* are the “owners” of LSS of Minnesota would be a goodplace to start. Compose a resolution and present it at the synodassemblies, who can then pass it along to the churchwide assembly nextyear. That is how statements are developed and actions taken in theELCA; we are not a hierarchical church body. That is what I have beentrying to get across to you all this time. The churchwide office is nota “vatican” that can tell the synods or other expressions of the churchwhat to do in specific circumstances.

Miriam L. Woolbert ELCA Communication Services


30 December 2008 10:17:55 AM PST


From: David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom

Subject: I am not a licensed therapist, I’m a community organizer

Dear Ms. Woolbert,

As you suggest, I have contacted the six Synods in Minnesota that own LSSMN.

Your second paragraph about whether or not I am a “licensed therapist” is interesting and revealing.

1) I do like humor, I’m fine with humor, and I think it helps ion challenging issues.

2) However, I think you are going a bit past humor, and using sarcasmhere, even though this is a controversial topic, which seemsprovocative.

3) I am glad to hear in the news that quite a few bishops in ELCA willsoon be making the difficult trip to the Middle East, during a time ofturmoil, when there is such a need for peace there.

No doubt, ELCA will hear controversial points of view from a variety of perspectives at this time.

I highly doubt anyone, including you, will respond in a sarcastic andunprofessional way to communication about Middle East controversies.Why? Because all sides involved in that conflict, as oppressed as theymay be, have a certain level of power and respect, at least enough tocommand dignity from those communicating with them.

It is in the mental health field, where we are working on behalf ofextremely disenfranchised people, that someone with your level ofauthority — a gatekeeper of communication on this issue, crucial toRay’s life — can feel they could act so sarcastically andunprofessionally.

I bet you have never heard of the word “sanist.”

“Sanism” is discrimination against people based on the mental healthissue, and it is an “ism” that is huge, but isn’t even named. The factthat you would speak sarcastically to me below, but not to anyone elseon any other controversy, would say a great deal, and I feel it issanist.

4) I am not a licensed therapist, I am a community organizer for 32years, at some personal sacrifice. Community organizing as a professionbeen mocked in the last election cycle as not “official,” but the factis that community organizing is a crucial occupation, and I reject thatkind of negative categorization of people who are not licensedtherapists as somehow unqualified to speak out about social justiceissues in mental health.

5) Ms. Woolbert, you and your career are not the issue here. But I ambeginning to feel like perhaps your communication below is somethingthat our human rights alert list readers would like to read too.

A key part of what we are saying is that the general population — notjust licensed therapists — ought to speak out about the mental healthtopic. It is time for democracy to get more hands on with these topics.Again, we do love humor. For instance, we have a MAD PRIDE campaignsimilar to “gay pride.” Perhaps our MAD PRIDE movement might speak outto Bishop Hanson by pointing out in creative ways, that “no” many of usare not licensed therapists… we are human beings, we are citizens,and we deserve basic respect and consideration.

6) And finally, please note that we have a Scientific AdvisoryCommittee composed of medical doctors, psychologists with PhD’s, etc.with long clinical experience. If you’d like them to comment on this,just ask.

But they know someone does not have to know an individual personally tospot extreme abuse. You do not have to know someone personally in the1950’s to know that, for exampled, forced lobotomies back then werewrong.

One not have to know the people personally who received forcedsterilizations in psychiatric institutions in the 1930’s and 1940’s toknow it was wrong.

One simply has to have the heart, the empathy, to hear suffering…

Many people can hear Ray’s suffering, and that’s why you’re getting so many contacts from concerned people.

I am worried about the many people who, for some reason, cannot hearthe suffering Ray is experiencing, and do not want to genuinelydialogue about this situation.


David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International


If you too would like to take up Ms. Woolbert’s suggestion to contact the six Minnesota ELCA Synod’s that own LSSMN,

Then go down to “3D” and use the ’email link’ for this one and the next five, total of six Minnesota Synods.

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