CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology tried to stop protesters from returning to the sidewalks outside its headquarters this week by filing a type of petition in court usually used by women in fear for their safety.
And in large part because of that approach, a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge denied it late Wednesday afternoon.
In a petition filed Tuesday, the church claimed the Internet-based group Anonymous wants to harm the church and its leaders, in particular the Rev. Heber Jentzsch, the president of the Church of Scientology International.
The church also claims Anonymous has tried to harm the church in the past.
The church’s court maneuver comes a month after about 180 members of Anonymous gathered outside Scientology’s headquarters Feb. 10 and conducted a peaceful protest. Members of the group vowed to return.
In court lingo, the church was asking for an injunction for protection against repeat violence, which is more typically filed by women who say they are being beaten.
Circuit Judge Linda R. Allan noted that the Church of Scientology is a corporation, not a person, and that the process the church’s attorneys were seeking to stop the protesters is by law reserved for a “person who is the victim of repeat violence,” according to a copy of her ruling.
The statute “was clearly created for the protection of individuals,” Allan wrote. “Certainly, counsel for the petitioners does not argue that a corporation can be the victim of the crime of battery or assault as that would be legally impossible.”
In the 21-page petition filed Tuesday, which is accompanied by dozens of exhibits, the church says members of Anonymous have threatened to commit acts of violence on the church and its members today, which is the birthday of church founder L. Ron Hubbard.
“Parishioners, officials, and leaders come to Clearwater and gather in large numbers at numerous events and services for this purpose,” the petition states. “It is at this event that Anonymous has declared that it is their plan to assassinate or execute the Rev. Heber Jentzsch.”
The celebration is expected to continue Friday and Saturday.
– L. Ron Hubbard
To support its request that protesters be kept 500 feet from Scientology buildings and Jentzsch, the church notes that Anonymous has posted detailed plans online for its protest on Saturday, including breaking its members up into “red, yellow and blue teams,” maps of Scientology buildings and roads, and instructions that protesters use sunglasses, bandannas, hats and scarves to cover their faces.
Initially, according to the church, Anonymous attacked Scientology’s Web sites, causing them to crash and be inoperable for days. Now, the church contends, Anonymous is advocating physical violence against the church, its leaders and parishioners. The church claims some members of the group have encouraged the use of bombs, hand grenades and machine guns.
“Much of the violence has been encouraged and promoted through the posting of animated videos on the Internet Web site known as YouTube.com,” the petition says. A DVD of those videos was attached to the petition.
Among the signs the church says represent an escalation in attacks is a Feb. 28 911 call in which the caller said there was a man under the desk in the lobby of the Fort Harrison Hotel, a Scientology building in downtown Clearwater, and that the man was shooting people. More than a dozen police cars responded before it was determined the call was a hoax.
Though none of the members who protested in February gave the media their names, the church has found out the identities of more than 20 people they say are associated with Anonymous. They are listed as defendants in the petition filed Tuesday.
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