Riverside County board puts residential picketing restraints on hold
Supervisors stopped final approval of the ordinance and voted unanimously to re-examine its prohibition on picketing within 300 feet of a targeted residence. They agreed to have county counsel and staff retool the ordinance in consultation with the county sheriff’s office and Samuel Alhadeff, an attorney representing the Church of Scientology.
“I think we may be going too far with this ordinance,” said Board Chairman Roy Wilson. “I think it does restrict the legitimate right to protest.”
Tuesday’s decision to reconsider followed a five-minute discourse from the podium in which Supervisor Jeff Stone accused Scientology opponents of oppressing Jews, Christians and black people and encouraging youth suicide and terrorism. Stone read from and displayed a pamphlet produced by the Church of Scientology.
Anti-Scientology picketers from the group Anonymous spoke at the meeting and said the church was inventing lies as part of efforts to discredit and harass critics.
“The group Anonymous does not target any religion. The only activity we do is to oppose the criminal activities of Scientology and the cult of Scientology,” said Francois Choquette, an aerospace engineer who participated in the October protest.
He called the Gilman Hot Springs base a prison and said the church punishes it members there with beatings.
Catherine Fraser, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, said those statements were false.
Supervisor Bob Buster cautioned supervisors about getting involved in a religious dispute, and letting that dictate laws for the county.
“The board is being dragged into not so much a protection of people living in houses being imprisoned, as it were, by ongoing protests,” Buster said. “But it seems to me we are connecting it to a particular religious group and that to me is dangerous ground on which to proceed with an ordinance that does engage a very vital part of our U.S. constitution.”