Riverside County supervisors OK limits on picketing in residential neighborhoods

The Press-Enterprise, California/November 25, 2008

The Church of Scientology's concerns about protesters outside their Gilman Hot Springs base led Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone to seek and gain approval Tuesday for county restrictions on picketing in residential neighborhoods.

Only Supervisor Bob Buster voted against the ordinance, which forbids demonstrators from coming within 300 feet of a home they are targeting in unincorporated Riverside County.

Buster said a 300-foot buffer would effectively quash demonstrations outside residences. He said the ordinance threatens free-speech rights.

Stone said that protesters can still present their message, but at a safe distance that prevents violence.

"We need to do what we can locally to allow people to have freedom of expression but not provide a bully pulpit for hate," he said.

County Counsel Joe Rank and Samuel Alhadeff, an attorney representing Golden Era Productions, Scientology's film division, said Tuesday that higher courts have upheld the constitutionality of the 300-foot restriction.

The county ordinance is based on a similar one in Palm Desert, Stone said.

Stone described mask-wearing protesters who have appeared in recent months outside Scientology's Golden Era campus off Gilman Springs Road as "hatemongers."

While many Scientology demonstrators have taken pains to remain anonymous, they have publicly accused Scientology of mistreating and exploiting members and harassing critics.

Alhadeff said Stone's office decided to put forward an ordinance following an Oct. 26 incident in which a protester bit a Golden Era security guard outside the fence of the Scientology compound.

A protester crossed onto church property, prompting security guards to detain him, said Lt. Patricia Knudson of the Riverside County sheriff's Hemet station. The protester bit one of the security guards, she said. Police arrived and arrested the man on charges of battery and trespassing.

She said there have been sporadic protests outside Scientology grounds over the past several months, but this is the only instance of violence she recalls.

Buster said residential protests could be an annoyance to their targets. He cited a protest of environmentalists in March outside Supervisor John Tavaglione's Riverside home. Protesters opposed warehouse projects he had approved.

But Buster said the ordinance would also have outlawed demonstrations such as 2005 protests outside a Mead Valley halfway house. Supervisors including Stone and Buster joined in picketing the residence, which was home to paroled rapist David Allyn Dokich.

"Picketing has long been part of the hurly-burly of democracy," Buster said, adding: "I think that's an unfair restriction on people."

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