Scientology protester faces court over 'ambiguous' sign

The Scotsman, UK/June 17, 2008

A protester has been charged with breach of the peace after carrying an "ambiguous" sign during a rally against the Church of Scientology. The 57-year-old was arrested after taking part in a protest at Hunter Square, near the controversial church's Scottish base on South Bridge.

The protest was organised by campaign group Anonymous, which has been fighting for the right to describe t

he church as a cult. The protester who was arrested was wearing a Mexican wrestler's mask and carrying signs which read "Stupid Cu*t" and "Greedy Cu*t".

The banner had flaps with letter "l"s on which could be folded down over the stars.

Police decided the message on the banner was "too ambiguous" and could be taken as offensive.

Around 60 people took part in Saturday's protest, policed by eight officers, while Scientologists ran a recruitment tent in the square.

Last month, Edinburgh councillors said they had "no objection" to the use of the word "cult" in referring to the church.

The decision followed a teenager taking part in a London protest being handed a court summons for refusing to put down a sign which read "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult".

In an online blog, the protester who was arrested said: "Following the recent arrests of protesters who displayed the word "cult", I decided to make the point that the word "cult" was being treated as an offensive profanity when applied to Scientology.

"The arrest when it came was swift and non-negotiable. I was told, 'That's going too far, I'm arresting you'. I never received a warning.

"I think it's a waste of taxpayers' money to arrest me over a joke.

"The police treated it more like an Orange Order walk or football match, whereas previously, it was more of a carnival atmosphere. Perhaps I misread the mood."

The protester, who said he lost touch with two friends after they joined the church in the 1970s, is due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on July 3.

A spokesman for Anonymous Scotland, which has around 130 members, said: "The police had been good with us until the Scientologists started making frivolous complaints. They knew how to push the police's buttons and get them to intimidate us by taking down all our details.

"We understand the sign could be viewed as slightly insidious, but this man was not warned about it. He was simply arrested and that's why we were angry."

None of the group are former Scientologists, but some have friends or family who are current or former members. The group's next march is planned for the second weekend of July.

A police spokeswoman said: "A 57-year-old man was arrested after displaying a banner with offensive writing. Aside from this, the protest passed peacefully."

Scientologists claim to be dedicated to self improvement through counselling and rehabilitation. Famous members include Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

No-one could be reached at the Church of Scientology.

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