Survey asks Clearwater residents about the Church of Scientology

Fox 13 News, Florida/February 6, 2015

By Steve Nichols

Clearwater -- The Church of Scientology is mentioned repeatedly in an online survey developed by an outside consultant commissioned by the City of Clearwater.

The survey is part of the research underpinning a rebranding of the city.

"We obviously will find all of the positives about Clearwater and build the brand and the logo, and the look and feel and the dialogue about Clearwater, around all of the positive things that people think about Clearwater," director of communications Joelle Castelli explained.

In most cases, the Church of Scientology appears on lists of possible responses to questions, with people asked to pick two.

For example, "Home of the Church of Scientology" is one of twelve possible responses to the question "If you had to pick two words/phrases that best describes Clearwater, it would be...Choose two answers".

Question #16 specifically asks whether the respondent is a member of the Church of Scientology. That is the only question a Church spokesperson took issue with, because it was not asked about any other faith.

Otherwise, Pat Harney said the Church understands why the questions are included, and said the only way for Clearwater to grow is to be inclusive and recognize Scientology's contribution.

Harney pointed out the Church has now been in Clearwater for 40 of the city's 100 years of the city's existence, and contributes nearly $1 billion a year to the local economy.

Clearwater is Scientology's religious center, with thousands of parishioners spending days, weeks or even months in Clearwater.

"It's probably no different than the Vatican when you go to Rome," Clearwater Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Clifford said. "It's very hard to discuss Rome without talking about the Vatican."

Clifford also said in private conversations, Church officials are not happy about the survey.

"I don't think it was any one specific question at all, I think it was in general that the questions were even being asked," he said.

However, Clifford pointed out a possible upside:

"I really think that if I was the church, I would be very interested in hearing what the general public thinks of their presence in the community," Clifford said.

Castelli said the consultant's research will also be conducted in other states, again with questions such as "Do you know that Clearwater is the home to the Church of Scientology" to find out "...if it's just an internal perception in Clearwater or if it's a perception outside of Clearwater and outside of the state."

The rebranding effort extends well beyond Scientology.

"We really need something we can latch onto," Castelli said. "What is Clearwater known for, and what can we get our name out about, and what defines us?"

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