Riverside County ordinance curtailing Scientology protests suspended

Los Angeles Times/January 13, 2009

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors today temporarily suspended an ordinance it passed last week to limit protests outside a large Church of Scientology compound near Hemet.

Protesters show up about once a month outside Golden Era Productions, home to 500 Scientologists, on Gilman Springs Road. In an incident last week, protesters were swarmed by sheriff's deputies trying to enforce the ordinance. After a vigorous debate among supervisors, the ordinance was suspended today.

The measure, which was requested by the church to keep demonstrators away from private homes and was rushed through last week as "urgent," is supposed to keep protesters 50 feet from the property line of any residence. Supervisors believed it still would allow protests outside the compound's front gate.

But a group protesting at the front gate last week was met by carloads of deputies demanding identification. Officers also asked two of the men whether they were HIV positive, protesters said.

In today's debate, Supervisor Bob Buster questioned whether the ordinance was needed.

"This seems to be much more complicated than it need be," Buster said. "Why is it even needed?"

Sam Alhadeff, a lawyer representing the church, said the measure was needed to "protect people who move around the campus from having people scream at them."

Supervisor Roy Wilson moved to have the ordinance suspended for a month while county counsel and the Sheriff's Department determined exactly where protesters could assemble and what form their protests could take.

"The county counsel and the sheriff can get together and make it crystal clear what we are doing," he said. "This has gotten broader than we had anticipated."

The board voted unanimously to approve the temporary suspension.

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