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by Adelita Zapata
Sunday, Apr. 19, 2009 at 1:45 AM
Riverside County’s hotly contested anti-targeted-picketing Ordinance No. 884 will be put to the test on Sunday, April 19, 2009, when a group of protesters plans to hold a rally at the gates of the sprawling Scientology compound known as Golden Era Productions located at 19625 Gilman Springs Road near Hemet.
The rally is being staged by the group to test how local law enforcement officials will interpret the language of the ordinance, which was debated in a series of Riverside County Board of Supervisors meetings spanning a five-month period.
Attorney Graham Berry, a representative of the protest group, says the language of the ordinance is too vague for picketers who regularly protest the location to follow. Conflicting provisions of the ordinance at one point place the protesters 30 feet away from any dwelling within the 500-acre property that qualifies as a residence, and at another point places them 30 feet away from the property line that surrounds the compound.
Under the former definition, protesters would be able to continue picketing as usual at the front gates of Golden Era Productions; under the latter it would force them more than a mile away.
Although county counsel Pamela Walls assured picketers, including Berry, that protests would be allowed to continue as in the past, Berry fears law enforcement will be coerced by Scientology officials to interpret the ordinance more harshly.
“Sunday’s rally will be the defining moment for 884,” he said.
Berry and others within his protest group have accused Supervisor Jeff Stone of pushing through Ordinance No. 884 to appease his Scientology constituents living at the compound. Stone consistently argued in favor of the ordinance, which he originally introduced as being written on behalf of Scientology and in part by Scientology’s legal representative, Samuel Alhadeff.
Stone later denied the ordinance was tied to Scientology, but Berry insists its language remains pointed at the Hemet compound.
“You have mention of residential dwellings and property lines and sidewalks on the other side of the street and all sorts of diffusionary tactics…but what’s lacking in the language is a clear cut definition of which buildings on the compound are designated as residential dwellings and exactly where the protesters will be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Several Riverside County residents have echoed Berry’s concern for the protection of First Amendment rights in a series board meeting clips that now proliferate YouTube. Several have spoken out against Stone’s ordinance claiming it infringes on Riverside County residents’ rights to freedom of speech. Berry, a resident of Los Angeles County, supports their claim and broadens it universally.
“Scientology is an international organization, so people come from all over the world to protest the human rights abuses being carried out each day at the Hemet compound. Ordinance No. 884 doesn’t just limit the rights to free speech for Riverside County residents. In a certain way, it silences the whole world.”
Berry said Sunday’s protest group represents a global interest in exposing documented abuses against residents of the compound who are also members of the church’s paramilitary branch known as the Sea Organization (SO).
A recent lawsuit filed by former SO member, Marc Headley, alleges labor law violations and human trafficking under the direct command of church leader, Captain David Miscavige.
Another suit filed separately by Headley’s wife claims female SO members are pressured into having abortions they do not want in order to retain their posts.
Two human rights activists expected to be at Sunday’s rally were among a group protesting the compound on October 26, 2008 when an altercation broke out between one picketer and three security guards. Charges resulting from the incident have yet to be addressed in court, however, the event became the impetus for filing the ordinance, according to Supervisor Stone at the time.
According to activist and self-help author Patricia Curtis, “We were there in October exercising our constitutional rights by holding a peaceful protest against some of Scientology’s practices. The incident between the guards and the picketer was exploited by the church and four of the five supervisors to create this ordinance. Now we have no idea if we can effectively exercise our rights. None of us wants to be arrested, but if that’s what it comes to on Sunday at least we’ll know where the politicians of Riverside County stand with regard to the constitution.”
Activist Susan Elliot addressed the Board on several occasions opposing Stone’s characterization of the picketers as “hatemongers” and white supremacists.
“I wish all five board members along with Pamela Walls would come out and visit us on Sunday and see for themselves that we are not monsters or terrorists. We’re a group of soccer moms and teachers and professionals trying to bring a certain injustice to light.”
Curtis and Elliot have contacted each of the supervisors with an invitation to Sunday’s rally.
“We’d like them to witness firsthand how their ordinance is interpreted by local law enforcement and by officials from within Scientology’s ranks,” said Curtis.
In addition to the protest, a documentary film crew will be conducting interviews of former SO members and residents of the compound. The rally is scheduled to run from 2 to 5 PM.
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