Judge orders safety zone for Scientologists

Naples Daily News, Thursday, February 10, 2000
By Vickie Chachere

ST. PETERSBURG - A judge will allow a safety zone to remain around a Church of Scientology dining hall and ruled Wednesday that some protesters must stay out of it.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas E. Penick Jr. stopped short of ordering three associates of anti-Scientology activist Robert S. Minton from staying away from church properties. Instead, Penick said the church could bring them to court to seek an injunction if it wished.

"We are talking the First Amendment, folks," Penick said. "Both sides have the right to espouse whatever they want under the First Amendment." Police used white lines to mark off a safety zone at a Scientology dining hall. About 600 church members ride buses to and from the hall three times a day and often are confronted by pickets.

The area extends across the street to keep protesters away from church members, but church critics say police often stop the general public from walking down that street.

"The safety zone is only to keep the picket signs and the in-your-faces (protesters) out of there while people are getting on and off those buses," the judge said.

Penick's decision is another incremental step in the face-off between New England millionaire Minton and Scientologists on the streets of Clearwater, the church's headquarters. The judge likened the situation to a chess match. Minton pickets near church properties three times a week and employs people through the Lisa McPherson Trust - named after a church member who died in 1995 under suspicious circumstances - to do the same. No one hired by the trust can enter the safety zone under Penick's order.

The church is facing criminal charges of neglect and unauthorized practice of medicine in McPherson's death and a civil lawsuit brought by her family. Minton is banned from going within 10 feet of 17 church properties after a confrontation with a church member in December resulted in Minton being charged with misdemeanor battery. Some church members are forbidden from going within 20 feet of Minton.

Church officials wanted that injunction extended to eight of Minton's associates.

Church attorney F. Wallace Pope Jr. said he was satisfied with the judge's ruling. Minton, who estimates he's spent $3 million fighting the church, said the protests will go on.

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