Protest threat as Scientologists set up tent 'mission' on Princes Street

Evening News, Edinburgh UK/October 9, 2008

Scientologists have caused a stir in Princes Street by inviting passers-by into a huge yellow tent to have church members help solve their problems.

The tent was part of a missionary effort by the controversial church, whose members include Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Though the group gained council permission to erect the tent yesterday, some critics complained it was obstructing the pavement and campaigners have threatened to organise protests if it is used again.

Visitors were given personality tests to help reveal their problems, which could then be addressed by church members.

Scientology public affairs director for Scotland, Gordon Reid, said: "The purpose of the cavalcade is to provide help to people. Volunteer ministers are trained in easy-to-learn techniques that enable them to help others with drug and alcohol problems, relationships, problems at work, difficulties with raising children, and many other areas."

However, the event was causing some raised eyebrows among passers-by yesterday afternoon.

One man, who asked not to be named, said the tent was taking up too much space on the busy pavement: "I don't mind them being here, I think it's just inconvenient where they are."

Adam MacLaughland, 36, a recent graduate from Leith, said: "My first thought was total disgust that they're allowed it, and the second was 'It's a free society and would I shake my head if it was the Church of Scotland? Probably not'. The third was that I'd like to go in there and blow a raspberry at them."

A council spokeswoman said the organisation did not require planning permission for the tent, which was treated in the same way as an event or parade.

The organisers had to notify the council of the start and finish times, provide the name of an official who would liaise with police if necessary and pledge to cause no obstruction or inconvenience to the public.

Lothian and Borders Police, said they had received no complaints.

City Centre councillor, Joanna Mowat, said: "It's a free country – people are entitled to have their beliefs. If they apply for the licence and conform to the conditions we would not make a moral judgement on who was doing it."

But a spokesman for campaign group Anonymous Edinburgh, which carries out regular protests at the Church of Scientology's South Bridge offices, said he was concerned that in offering to solve people's problems, the church was targeting vulnerable people.

He said: "I'm concerned that they're out so obviously in Edinburgh. We've protested before at the weekends but if they're coming out on weekdays I think you'll probably see some action from us in the form of protests in future. There are quite a lot of us in Edinburgh so if someone spots them there's a couple of numbers they can call to get people together quickly."

In May, Anonymous members contacted both Edinburgh City Council and Lothian and Borders Police and received reassurances that neither was concerned by campaigners' use of the word "cult" during peaceful protests in the Capital.

The church refutes allegations that it is a cult.

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