Scientologists, protesters keep their distance
St. Petersburg Times
Dec 3, 2000
Members of the Church of Scientology stayed out of sight Saturday during adaylong demonstration downtown by church critics.
By noon, about 30 protesters had gathered across the street from thechurch's Fort Harrison Hotel with anti-Scientology T-shirts, camcorders and picket signs with messages critical of the church.
The protesters say they hold the demonstration this time of year tocommemorate Lisa McPherson, the 36-year-old Scientologist who died Dec. 5, 1995, after a 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel. The demonstration, the sixth, will continue today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
It was largely a subdued event with sporadic moments of loud noise whenprotesters roused passers-by to honk their car horns and one critic brought a boom box with Queen's We Will Rock You blasting.
Clearwater police officers were stationed along Fort Harrison Avenue andnear the entrance of the Fort Harrison Hotel, an area that a Thursday injunction designated as off-limits to picketers. Authorities reported no trouble at the demonstration.
"It's all been very peaceful, very quiet," said Lt. Don Hall, commander ofthe downtown officers. "We've not had to seriously reprimand anyone on either side."
The one drama of the afternoon happened around 12:20 p.m. when policearrested a man who was yelling in front of the Fort Harrison Hotel. Police said the man was not associated with the protest or the church. Details of the arrest were not available Saturday night.
Church members, who normally fill the streets around Scientology'sdowntown facilities, stayed away, except for a handful of staff members who stood at the hotel entrance.
A banner hanging on the hotel read, "The Church of Scientology wishes youa happy holiday season!" Rather than react to the protest, church members instead focused on their holiday events, such as the all-day bazaar on Cleveland Street, said spokesman Ben Shaw.
"We have nothing to gain by interacting with these guys," Shaw said.
"There is 15 or 20 of them who are hard core and cannot accept they areexisting in a world of lies." He questioned the point of the protest, and noted that each year it appears to shrink.
"Normally, you have a protest to communicate to the public a message, buttheir intention is to try and annoy our church members," Shaw said. "Our church members want to be here, so it's kind of a pointless game."
Protesters, who came from around the country and Europe, had differentreasons for being there.
Mark Dallara, 29, of Tampa, said he participates because he is a "freespeech advocate."
Tory Bezazian, 53, of California said she left the church only four monthsago after 30 years as a member. She stood on the sidewalk wearing red devil horns and carrying a cardboard megaphone.
"When you get out and you get the whole thing, you're like, 'What was Ithinking?' " Bezazian said. "I know the people inside are brainwashed and they're laughing at me. But to me, the truth is, I'm free. I can do what I want. I can say what I want."
Caption: Arnie Lerma and Tory Bezazian participate in the annual protestby Scientology critics in Clearwater on Saturday.