Church of Scientology sparks backlash in Chicago with new 'ideal' branch offering students at nearby Columbia College 'spiritual counseling'

Daily Mail, UK/March 11, 2024

By Alice Wright

The Church of Scientology has incurred the wrath of locals and university students after shutting down an entire city block to open its new 'ideal branch' in Chicago.

The grand opening ceremony in South Loop saw followers block access to an entire block of South Clark Street on Sunday.

'While before that Windy City ribbon comes cascading down, this is also the moment to recognize what you already know, how just as Chicago was once reborn, so today there is room for a new beginning,' controversial leader David Miscavige told the crowd outside the brick building of 650 South Clark Street.

'And thus, room for restoring to individuals the ability to live a better life, in their own estimation and with their fellows and the playing of a better game' he said at the building's opening.

The opening sparked backlash from some students at Colombia College, which has a residential hall next door to the new building.

Devin Schwieters, a freshman told the Chicago Tribune the location may attract young students to the Church which is 'disturbing.'

'The first week of school in September when we got here, they did have all these tables set up in front of our dorm with their free stress testing, and they were auditing for students, which was always kind of weird,' she explained.

'When they first started setting up on Saturday, they had all these tables set out again, where it was like, 'Hey, Columbia, like thank you for being our new neighbors.'

'They were giving out free doughnuts and stuff, and it was just a weird taste in my mouth about it. It's very obvious what they're trying to do' she added.

Roisin Darby, a sophomore at Columbia told the Tribune the grand opening was 'entirely disrespectful to the residents.'

'Not only were we as students blocked from our building, having to sometimes physically push past people, but most every business on our street had to close that day,' Darby said.

'Columbia College Chicago is committed to working with the Church of Scientology as a neighbor,' spokesperson for the college Jacqueline Partridge said.

'Our team plans to meet with representatives in the upcoming weeks.'

Chicago City Council Alderman Bill Ward told the Tribune his office had received a few dozen complaints following Sunday's event.

Conway told the publication that he spoke with church leaders and told them future permits will face 'significant scrutiny' because of the complaints.

'They were saying, 'This was our grand opening, we don't really plan any more of these,' so it was kind of a one-time event,' he said.

Adding: 'We're going to do everything we can to make sure the community maintains access to everything and everybody is safe.'

Bari Berger, a spokesperson for the Church said the new facility is called an 'Ideal Church of Scientology,' because it provides the 'ideal facilities to service Scientologists on their ascent to greater states of spiritual awareness and freedom.'

'The Church is thrilled to be open. We have had an avalanche of good wishes welcoming us to the community. Many new neighbors have told us how happy they are to see the Church finally open in its new home,' she said in a statement.

'We look forward to working hand-in-hand with our neighbors and many community partners in a collaborative effort to uplift this great city.'  

Adding that the church complied with instructions from the city and Police Department, and 'went out of our way to make sure all those with apartments or businesses on the street had access during the street closure.'

The Church of Scientology has attracted renewed criticism following the rape conviction of former celebrity member Danny Masterson.

The disgraced TV actor was convicted last May of raping two women in the early 2000s.

He was sentenced in September by a Los Angeles jury to 30 years to life behind bars with the possibility of parole for two counts of rape with force, violence or fear of bodily injury.

After Masterson' conviction for the two rapes, he was expelled from the Church of Scientology and declared a 'suppressive person' - or an 'SP' - which the church defines as someone whose behavior seeks to impede the spiritual progress of those around him.

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