Scientologists hit out at criticism

The Sydney Morning Herald/January 21, 2009

The Church of Scientology has appealed for religious tolerance after its $12 million bid to redevelop its Sydney headquarters sparked fears from neighbours of an increase in "menacing" and "aggressive" recruitment tactics.

The church has sought approval from the City of Sydney to add two floors to its five-storey building, Scientology House, on Castlereagh Street. The increased floor space would help turn the building into an "Ideal Org", the name Scientologists give to their most significant churches.

But almost 150 people in the neighbouring Victoria Towers complex have signed a petition warning of an increase in on-the-street recruitment drives using the "infamous IQ and personality tests".

"The street activity often results in menacing interaction with members of the public and has been known to be aggressive and persistent at times," the petition states.

More than 30 individual objections have also been lodged, including one from the owners of a neighbouring building occupied by the Department of Defence, which cites the security risk posed by a recent spate of anti-Scientology protests.

"Increased activity at 201 Castlereagh Street will encourage increased public protest in the area, which already occurs regularly and again presents a serious security concern for the occupiers of Defence Plaza," the Industry Superannuation Property Trust said.

Other submissions raised concerns about the potential loss of views, "toxic emissions" from air conditioning units and the heritage impact the proposed development would have on the neighbouring historic St George's Presbyterian Church.

The president of the church, Vicki Dunstan, said the residents' claims were "extremely vindictive and untrue".

About 20 church supporters have already sent in submissions, pleading to be treated by the council without prejudice. Ms Dunstan said 600 people had also signed a petition in support of the proposal.

In one of the submissions, the executive director of the church, Caroline Collen, wrote: "We pride ourselves on being responsible neighbours and friends to the local community and want to be given the same rights to expand and use our air space as any other property owner in your precinct."

Another parishioner wrote: "There have been other upgrades carried out by other religious organisations such as St Mary's Cathedral and St Andrew's Cathedral and I feel that we should also be granted the right to upgrade our building so that we can make a more aesthetic location for our parishioners to come to."

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