Freedom of speech called into question during downtown 'Anonymous' Scientology protest

The Spectrum, University at Buffalo/February 11, 2008

This past Sunday, members of the group 'Anonymous' protested the practices of the Church of Scientology around the world. The Internet-based group claims that the Church is financially and morally unethical, while a Church press release calls Anonymous "a group of cyber-terrorists."

"We are here to protest the Church of Scientology. Why? Because no one should fear free speech."

This text graced the front of a tri-folded informational pamphlet, one of the dozens of papers handed out by Anonymous at the Buffalo protest. The demonstration was held across the street from 836 Main Street, the location of the Church of Scientology (CoS) Buffalo.

"We're totally for freedom of speech," said Sue Hawley, community services director for CoS Buffalo. "Whatever you want to protest about is totally fine. Anonymous has said that they are for freedom of speech...they've interrupted freedom of speech."

Feb. 10 was to be an international day of protest for Anonymous against the CoS. Anonymous calls the protests "raids," which take place outside major CoS locations in North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Participants were directed to wear masks in most locations; however, masks are illegal in New York.

"We are protesting the corporation of the Church of Scientology," said one protestor, wishing to remain anonymous. "We just don't want them to exploit their members."

According to Anonymous' pamphlet, "CoS members must pay for work for the Church to gain higher levels of spiritual awareness, forcing many members into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt."

The protestors went on to describe Operating Thetan levels - pyramid spiritual states that CoS members can achieve based on their level of monetary donations. Chuck Beatty, a former Scientologist of 27 years and resident of Carnegie, Pa., said that once a person donates a certain amount of money, they're supposed to have an out of body experience. During his membership in the CoS, Beatty was identified as an SP, or a suppressive person.

"I was suppressively reasonable," Beatty said. He went on to describe how the CoS has taken on a type of ex-communication policy for SP's.

According to an article on, SP's, who are considered the antisocial personality types, make up about 2.5 percent of the population.

"There are those among us...who possess characteristics and mental attitudes that cause them to violently oppose any betterment activity or group," the article said.

The article also stated that about 20 percent of the population has some form or connection to an antisocial personality, making them a PTS, potential trouble source.

In a CoS video of Tom Cruise that was leaked on the Internet, the avid Scientologist discussed some of the Church's policies and hopes.

"They said, 'so, like, have you met an SP?'" Cruise said in the video. "And I thought, what a beautiful thing, because maybe one day it'll be like, SP's, they'll just read about them in the history books."

One of the Anonymous members at the rally claimed that the CoS is largely driven by money, which is one of the reasons that Anonymous is campaigning to have the Church's tax exemption removed.

"Walk in any church, and they will give you a Bible for free. Walk in any mosque and they will give you a Qur'an," he said. "Scientologists will wait for your check to clear."

For 25 years, the IRS considered the CoS a commercial entity. After a series of lawsuits filed by the CoS against the IRS, the Church gained tax-exempt status, according to an Anonymous flyer. The CoS is still considered a commercial entity in Germany.

Hawley emphasized the CoS's humanitarian efforts, saying that they won't let the actions of Anonymous "stop [them] from doing the good works that [they] do."

"I work with children on a huge anti-drug campaign, our human rights campaign," Hawley said. "Human Rights International is a non-profit group that is trying to get the United Nations' declaration of human rights taught in schools. I'm out there pounding the pavement trying to get that done."

She went on to say that the CoS aims to have "a world without criminality." In accordance with CoS Founder L. Ron Hubbard's wishes, the Church also strives for positive communication around the world through missionary and tolerance movements, accord to the CoS Web site.

On the other hand, Hawley explained Anonymous' illegal activities that are being investigated by the FBI.

According to a CoS press release, Anonymous has "engaged in other harassment including threats of violence in telephone calls, fax transmissions and e-mails, not to mention the Anonymous mailing of white powder to dozens of our Churches, requiring the services of law enforcement."

"What's happened on the Internet, what's happening with Anonymous is criminal," Hawley said.

There were four, unarmed Buffalo Police officers at the Buffalo CoS on Sunday, while the parishioners were there for the 11 a.m. service. Hawley said that "numerous threats" had been made. Nevertheless, more worshippers than normal had shown up, in part, to defend their church.

"I want people to be safe and I want freedom," Hawley said.

Anonymous will next be seen in action on March 15, celebrating L. Ron Hubbard's birthday. March 13 is Hubbard's actual birthday - a day of celebration for Scientologists around the world.

"We also wish to show that we can be beings of kindness and compassion as well. We in no way wish to protest the beliefs of Scientology, or the Scientologists themselves. If they so wish, they are welcome to come out of their cages and make merry with us. The gifts we bear will be those of knowledge, reason, and free speech," an Anonymous Web site said of the celebration.

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