Riverside County Protest Ban
UPDATE: Wednesday 1/14/09
Not so fast Supervisor Stone… The ordinance has been delayed thanks to the embarassment brought about by the L.A. Times story. Here’s the followup from the Times:
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors today temporarily suspended an ordinance it passed last week to limit protests outside a large Church of Scientology compound near Hemet.
Protesters show up about once a month outside Golden Era Productions, home to 500 Scientologists, on Gilman Springs Road. In an incident last week, protesters were swarmed by sheriff’s deputies trying to enforce the ordinance. After a vigorous debate among supervisors, the ordinance was suspended today.
So, they hope a month from now people will have forgotten. Think again.
I wish I had been able to attend these meetings. Watching last week’s proceedings made my blood boil. I want to share it with you.
Supervisor Jeff Stone has allowed himself to be used by Scientology to shut down all protests at Gold near Hemet.
The speakers all did a fine job but the board passed the ban. Several on the board wanted to be assured that people could still protest at Gold. “Yes, yes,” they were told. However, in the past week some protesters tested the waters and had sheriff’s deputies come to answer Scientology’s frightened 911 calls.
Luckily, the protesters brought along a reporter from the L.A. Times who witnessed Scientology’s attempt to stop free speech.
Soon after demonstrators arrived, four Riverside County sheriff’s cruisers pulled up. Deputies spilled out and demanded identification. They asked for the driver’s license of a reporter covering the event and tried to question him.
“This happens every time we come out,” Berry said. “Meanwhile real crime is going on elsewhere.”
Sgt. Joseph Nardone asked the demonstrators if they were protesting individuals or the church. He said he had received 911 calls about the rally from inside the compound.“We are not here to stop any right to free speech,” Nardone said.
Sheriff’s officials, aware of recent incidents at the compound, said members often call 911 about demonstrators.
“We prefer to respond with more rather than less people,” said Lt. Patty Knudson of the sheriff’s Hemet station, which handles the area. “Sometimes Golden Era will contract with us for extra patrols and we assign two deputies for that. They have probably done that four or five times over the past year.”
As deputies questioned protesters, church officials gathered just inside the gate. They were clearly unhappy.
Fraser got on the phone to the Riverside County counsel’s office to see if the demonstrators could be pushed farther down the road.
No answer was immediately forthcoming. The county counsel was unavailable for comment Friday.
“We want to get them away from this whole sector,” Fraser said, looking at the three middle-aged demonstrators. “Everyone has the right to protest, but we don’t want them endangering our staff.”
Informed about the incident, Supervisor Wilson expressed concern.
“The church assured us that they could protest outside the main gate. We have not prohibited that,” he said. “If they start restricting locations and start applying this ordinance to mean you can’t protest Scientology at all, then we will have to revisit it.”
Jeff Stone should be ashamed of the actions he’s taken at Scientology’s behest. Stone is right. People should be allowed to join any church of their choice. But when Catholic priests sexually abuse children, the people have a right to protest outside that church. When Mormon’s fund an anti-gay measure, people have the right to protest outside the temple. When Scientology commits fraud and abuse, people have the right to protest.