About 40 people wearing masks and birthday party hats gathered Saturday afternoon to protest the Battle Creek Church of Scientology.
It was conducted Saturday in concurrance with worldwide protests around Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard‘s March 13 birthday.
One Battle Creek man was arrested for wearing a mask and defying a police officer.
Organized by the Internet-based group, Anonymous, protesters gathered across the street from the downtown church with flyers which called it a “cult” and “evil.”
“We have an issue with their bait-and-switch tactics,” said protester Josh Kanger, a 26-year-old student at Western Michigan University from Three Oaks.
Kanger and fellow protester Nick Armstrong, a 20-year-old Kalamazoo college student from Ada, said they are not opposed to Scientology or its beliefs.
Instead, they oppose the church’s practice of charging its members fees for information despite having a tax-free, nonprofit status.
“We believe it should be free,” Armstrong said.
Most of the protesters covered their faces and refused to give their last names, claiming fear of Scientologists.
But Michael Delaware, a minister of Scientology for 20 years and an executive staff member of the Battle Creek church, said they had been receiving anonymous phone call threats and hate mail since January.
On Wednesday, security was tightened at the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center after bomb threats were leveled nationally to the Church of Scientology by the group Anonymous.
Delaware said Saturday’s protest made him fear for the safety of his staff and congregation, which has been in Battle Creek seven years and serves more than 1,000 members across Michigan.
He said Scientologists do not require fees for information.
“They say we are violating their first amendment rights,” Delaware said. “They are violating our first amendment right to freedom of religion.”
Battle Creek police received a call at about 2 p.m. from the Battle Creek Church of Scientology because its members were worried about their safety, said Sgt. Jeff Case.
Case then warned the protesters that they violated a Michigan statute (750.396) which does not allow people to wear masks covering all or a part of their faces when assembling to march or protest in a public place. Halloween, masquerade and educational or religious parades are some exceptions to the rule, he said.
Just after 4 p.m. Case returned to find one man who refused to uncover his face.
“He was taunting,” Case said. “He knew we were there.”
The 18-year-old Battle Creek man was arrested “because he did not comply with the order he was given.”