Scientology opponents bristle at protest limits in Riverside County

Los Angeles Times/January 9, 2009

Opponents of the Church of Scientology say their 1st Amendment rights are being quashed by Riverside County after the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring protesters to stay 50 feet from the property line of a massive Scientology campus near Hemet.

The ordinance approved Tuesday was fast-tracked, meaning it did not receive the customary second hearing, and was sponsored by Supervisor Jeff Stone, who said protesters had crossed onto private property and were infringing on the quality of life at the church's Golden Era Productions compound on Gilman Springs Road.

Three protesters showed up Thursday outside the gates and within minutes were swarmed by Riverside County Sheriff's deputies in four squad cars. They were told they could not shout at specific individuals inside and could not block the entrance. Deputies also demanded the driver's license of a reporter covering the protest and tried to interrogate him. A sheriff's official later said that was inappropriate.

Church officials say they have received numerous bomb and death threats in the last month alone as protesters the world over have ramped up demonstrations against Scientology.

"It is my job to keep our people out of harm's way," said Catherine Fraser, director of public affairs for Golden Era Productions, which disseminates tapes and video for the church and has 500 employees. "We want to balance free speech with the right of privacy."

Opponents claim the church simply wants to silence protesters and keep demonstrators out of sight.

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