Timing is everything, and sometimes it's awkward: The Church of Scientology unveiled its grand new center a half-mile from the White House on Saturday - the same day the St. Petersburg Times unveiled a major investigative report alleging the church deployed coercive tactics and espionage against staff members who tried to leave.
Among the dignitaries speaking to the crowd that filled a cordoned-off block of 16th Street NW: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who presented the church with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol and praised the organization as a positive force for human rights and religious freedom.
Sherman is not a Scientologist, but his suburban Los Angeles district lies within Scientology's showbiz-heavy West Coast stronghold. Asked about the church's latest controversy, the congressman said through a rep that he has appeared at events for "over 100" religious groups, and "this does not give me the time to evaluate each of their organizational structures or doctrines because I am also showing up at hundreds of events for nonreligious organizations."
Scientology has had a prominent presence for decades in Dupont Circle, where late founder L. Ron Hubbard made his home. The newly renovated building at 16th and P will serve as its new D.C. church, said spokeswoman Sylvia Stanard, while its previous home in a historic mansion on 20th Street will be made over into a national public affairs office.
"We've never had a national headquarters like that before," she told us. Stanard said the opening ceremonies drew 3,000 church members (including actress Anne Archer, but no, sorry, no Tom Cruise or John Travolta).
How about that Times story on the day of their opening? "Throughout our history there's been negative stories," she said. "We keep expanding. It's just kind of our answer."