Scientology foes blast new Riverside County law
Reporting from Gilman Hot Springs — Church of Scientology critics are accusing Riverside County of kowtowing to the religion and infringing on free speech by passing an ordinance that limits protest outside the church’s sprawling complex near Hemet.
For the last year, a handful of demonstrators who believe Scientology is an abusive cult have picketed Golden Era Productions, the church’s main center for the production and dissemination of videos and tapes. The campus is home to 500 church employees.
Catherine Fraser, Golden Era’s director of public affairs, contends that the protesters are dangerous.
“It is my job to keep our people out of harm’s way,” Fraser said. “We want to balance free speech with the right of privacy.”
She said that the campus had received 56 bomb threats and 30 death threats in the last year and that one man was arrested recently for biting a security guard trying to move him away from the property.
Because of such incidents, the church, which has a reputation for aggressively defending itself, approached Supervisor Jeff Stone about an ordinance to keep demonstrators away from living quarters on the property in unincorporated Gilman Hot Springs.
On Tuesday, Stone put the measure on a fast track, meaning it did not get a second hearing. A handful of anti-Scientology activists spoke at the meeting, saying the limits hindered their 1st Amendment rights, but the measure passed unanimously.
The ordinance, which applies to all unincorporated areas of the county, requires protesters to stay 50 feet from the property line of any private residence they target.
“I am not a member of the Scientology Church, but I am grateful to live in a country where I could be if I wanted to,” Stone said. “This in no way is intended to limit the right of people to protest, but I don’t believe they should be jumping around on private property.”
Abiding by the new rule is challenging for Golden Era protesters, since the church owns the land on both sides of the public road, the property line surrounds all 700 acres and residences are scattered throughout the fenced compound.
Critics say the ordinance is a thinly disguised effort to shut down the protests, a notion denied by the church.
“There are plenty of places where people can voice their viewpoints,” said Sam Alhadeff, an attorney who represents the church. “There are many places they can picket.”
Supervisor Roy Wilson raised concerns before voting for the measure.
“I don’t want us to prohibit picketing at the institution — but I was assured this was aimed at residential picketing, not picketing against the Church of Scientology,” he said. “They do not have the right not to be protested as long as it’s peaceful.”
He attached a requirement that the board revisit the ordinance in six months and review any problems.
It might not take that long.
Protesters showed up outside the gate of the compound on Thursday. They carried signs such as “Scientology Keeps Slaves Here,” and shouted slogans that included “Tax the cult!”
Donald Myers of West Hollywood, who opposes Scientology’s negative view of psychiatric drugs, said of church officials: “Even the smallest protest freaks them out.”
“They all go inside when we come and we never have more than three or four people here,” he said. “This is the Xanadu of xenophobia.”
The church has placed large audio speakers alongside the road that play sound effects meant to drown out the shouts.
Scientology vs. free speech: paranoia understandable
All indications are that Scientologists hate free speech — unless they are they ones doing the speaking. The hate group has a long history of hate- and harassment activities against its critics — just like it also runs an ongoing hate campaign against psychiatry and psychiatrists.
When a group called Anonymous started protesting the Scientology cult’s harmful teachings and practices worldwide, Scientologists referred to the group as ‘terrorists’ — even though the protests have been peaceful. Now the cult suggests that protestors may be looking to harm Scientology staff members.
Whether such statements are inspired by paranoia, or by the pot vs. kettle syndrome, the paranoia is understandable given that the cult’s own founder came up with such unethical practices as dead agenting and fair game.
Politicians and civil servants should know better than to give in to Scientology’s demands.
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