Church plans event during protest today

[Tampa Tribune 8 March 1997]

3/30/97 -- 1:33 PM

Church plans event during protest today By CHERYL WALDRIP of The Tampa Tribune

Published in The Tampa Tribune March 8, 1997

CLEARWATER - Ever heard of a concert at the same time and place as a solemn candlelight vigil?

Or how about a picket that coincides with a ``cutest pet contest?''

Some 25 to 30 people will protest the Church of Scientology outside its world spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater today, and Scientologists plan an ``anti-drug awareness day'' nearby.

The protesters notified police of their plans several weeks ago. Police spokesman Wayne Shelor said police were notified of Scientology's plans about 2 p.m. Thursday.

Church spokesman Brian Anderson said the Scientology event has been in the works for some time and that there was no need to notify police.

Shelor said church representatives anticipate as many as 500 adults and 150 children could be at the anti-drug Scientology event. A church flier says the event will run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and will include a poster contest, a dance contest, a Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts campfire, a talent show, two concerts and the cute pet contest.

In the same vicinity, protesters from around the country will picket the church from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in protest of practices they say are harmful to church members and critics.

Beginning at 7 p.m., protesters plan to hold a candlelight vigil for Lisa McPherson, a 36-year-old Scientologist whose 1995 death is under investigation by authorities.

McPherson spent the last 17 days of her life at the Fort Harrison. An autopsy determined she died of a blood clot brought on by ``severe dehydration'' and ``bed rest.'' Her thin body was bruised and she had bites that Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood said were probably caused by cockroaches. Wood said McPherson was comatose for the last 24 to 48 hours of her life and had nothing to drink for at least five to 10 days.

Church representatives deny all of that and have called Wood a liar. They have said McPherson suddenly fell ill and that her death may have been related to a fast-acting staph infection. They have said she was well cared for and provided with food and water during her stay. They have said the police investigation is part of a long campaign of harassment and bigotry against the church.

Today's events are expected to attract local, national and international media.

Jeff Jacobsen, the Arizona activist who organized the protest, said Friday he thinks the church event is meant to interfere with the protest.

``This is more evidence the church does not believe in free speech when it comes to church critics,'' Jacobsen said. ``It's an attempt to stifle legitimate complaint against the church.''

Anderson said Jacobsen ``does not like our anti-drug activities. If he has a problem with that anti-drug message, then what's he promoting?''

Jacobsen also has created a web page on the Internet devoted to Lisa McPherson and organized a protest against the church in Clearwater last year.

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