Court again rebuffs Scientology's lawsuit

St. Petersburg Times/March 13, 2008

Clearwater - The Church of Scientology was told again Thursday it could not have a court order restraining Anonymous protesters this weekend, largely because the church's foe is as elusive as thin air.

But in its zeal to identify those who threatened the church, Scientology misfired, according to one woman who says she got fingered just because she works at Starbucks, near the church's headquarters.

Rosalie Fair, 19, said she had simply come to check her work schedule on Feb. 10 when a group of about 200 protesters from the Internet activist group Anonymous demonstrated in downtown Clearwater.

Fair said she has "nothing at all" to do with Anonymous. In fact, she said she went out of her way to avoid the protest because most of her customers are Scientologists and she didn't want to be mistaken as participating.

A St. Petersburg College student, Fair said she was troubled to learn she was one of 26 people listed as members of Anonymous in a Scientology lawsuit filed this week. It sought a restraining order to keep Anonymous members 500 feet from any Scientology buildings in a second round of planned protests tonight and Saturday.

The lawsuit alleged that Scientology churches around the world have been bombarded with harassing phone calls, obscene e-mails, bomb threats and death threats by members of an amorphous, loosely knit group that calls itself Anonymous.

Fair said she was troubled to see her name falsely associated with those kinds of actions.

"My name is on a list with a whole list of crimes that are very violent things, things I've never participated in," she said.

Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney said "the information we had is that all the people (listed in the lawsuit) were involved with Anonymous in some way," but "if we misidentified anyone, of course we apologize for that."

It points out the difficulty and frustration the church has had in trying to ferret out those responsible for threats they say they are taking very seriously.

"The problem we have is that people are hiding behind Anonymous," Harney said. "We have thousands of people here we have to protect."

On Thursday, Scientology officials say they received threats by phone and the Internet surrounding founder L. Ron Hubbard's birthday, which is today. That led them to ask employees to look for suspicious packages.

An employee found a new, brown suitcase in the alley behind Scientology's Life Improvement Center at 336 First Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

Police closed several streets, evacuated several buildings and called in the Tampa police bomb squad. But when police opened the suspicious suitcase, it contained no bomb - just clothing, personal items and a Holy Bible.

Harney said the threat was just one example of the wasted manpower in responding to a slew of threats.

"We're not going to allow this violent stuff to escalate and get out of control," Harney said.

In a statement given to the St. Petersburg Times this week, purported to be from Anonymous, the group condemned acts or threats of violence that may have occurred and said they were not the work of Anonymous. And they again urged demonstrators this weekend to protest peacefully and legally.

In striking down the church's petition Thursday, Circuit Judge Douglas Baird noted that the church failed to tie any of the 26 named people to the threats detailed in the suit.

"This court is mindful of the anxiety that may be caused by anonymous threats of violence, or as a series of seemingly unconnected incidents, be they on the Internet or otherwise," Baird wrote. "However, the jurisdiction of the court must only be exercised to specifically restrain those known individuals that are shown to have some reasonable nexus to the actual threats complained of in the petition."

Times staff writer Stephanie Garry contributed to this report.

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