UK minor faces charges for calling Scientology 'cult' at protest

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

News media in the United Kingdom are reporting that a boy under the age of 18 was served with a court summons by City of London Police because he held a placard calling Scientology a "cult" at a peaceful protest on May 10. Human rights activists have criticized the decision to issue the 15-year-old the summons as an affront to freedom of speech, and representatives for the City of London Police force explained the actions of the police.

The placard used by the boy, and the written warning issued by City of London Police
Image: nickstone333.

Individuals from the group Anonymous were protesting Scientology in the fourth protest in as many months, as part of the anti-Scientology movement Project Chanology. The Project Chanology movement began when the Church of Scientology attempted to get a leaked Scientology promotional video featuring Tom Cruise removed from websites YouTube and Gawker.com.

Members of Anonymous were motivated by the actions of the Church of Scientology, and bombarded Scientology websites and were successful in taking some of them down. Anonymous later changed tactics towards legal measures, and held international protests against Scientology on February 10, March 15, April 12, and most recently May 10.

At the May 10 protest, the 15-year-old boy was present and held up a placard which stated: "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult," with a mention at the bottom of the sign to the anti-Scientology website Xenu.net. He attended the protest held outside the Church of Scientology building on Queen Victoria Street, near St Paul's Cathedral in London. In a post made by the boy on the anti-Scientology website Enturbulation.org, he stated: "Within five minutes of arriving I was told by a member of the police that I was not allowed to use that word, and that the final decision would be made by the inspector." The website describes itself as "A Source for Information on Dianetics and the Scientology Organization". Using the pseudonym "EpicNoseGuy" at the Enturbulation.org message board, the boy goes on to describe how he was "strongly advised" by police to remove the placard.

City of London Police cited section five of the Public Order Act 1986 to the boy, which deals with "harassment, alarm or distress". In response, the boy cited a 1984 judgment given by Mr. Justice Latey in the Family Division of the High Court of Justice of Her Majesty's Courts of Justice of England and Wales, in which Latey called Scientology a "cult" and said it was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous". In the actual 1984 judgment made by Judge Latey, he stated: "Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. [...] In my judgement it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. [...] It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living and relationships with others." According to the boy's post at Enturbulation.org, the City of London Police told him he had 15 minutes to remove the sign in question. He was given a court summons by the police about a half-hour later, and his sign was removed and taken by the police as evidence.

Cquote1.svg I am going to fight this and not take it down because I believe in freedom of speech. Cquote2.svg

—15-year-old boy

In videos of the May 10 protest posted to YouTube, City of London Police can be seen telling protesters not to use the word "cult" in their signs. Protesters discussed the issue with police and stated that they had checked with lawyers and verified that criticizing religion was a valid form of protest. The police warned protesters that if they violated police instructions regarding usage of signs "you will be prosecuted". A female police officer read a form statement to the 15-year-old and stated: "I've been asked, if you could remove it [the sign] by 11:30, if not then I'll have to come back and either summons you or arrest you." The boy read Mr. Justice Latey's 1984 judgment to the police, and then said: "I'm not going to take this sign down." He told fellow protesters: "If I don't take the word 'cult' down, here [holding up his sign], I will be either, I think, most likely arrested or [given] a summons. I am going to fight this and not take it down because I believe in freedom of speech, besides which I'm only fifteen."

After the boy was given a summons one of the protesters asked a member of the City of London Police force: "Are we allowed to say Justice Latey says Scientology is a cult?", to which the police officer responded: "I've already had this discussion with people. Direct quotes by individuals, I haven't got a problem with."

Cquote1.svg This barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain's free speech traditions. Cquote2.svg

Shami Chakrabarti, director, Liberty

"This barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain's free speech traditions. After criminalising the use of the word 'cult', perhaps the next step is to ban the words 'war' and 'tax' from peaceful demonstrations?" said Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti in a statement in The Guardian. The boy has appealed for help in order to fight the potential charges and possible legal action from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Ian Haworth of the United Kingdom-based Cult Information Centre also commented on the actions of the City of London Police to The Guardian, saying: "This is an extraordinary situation. If it wasn't so serious it would be farcical. The police's job is to protect and serve. Who is being served and who is being protected in this situation? I find it very worrying."

News of the summons issued to the UK minor has received significant attention on the Internet, hitting the front pages of websites Slashdot, Digg, and Boing Boing on Wednesday. The story has also been discussed in hundreds of blog postings, including sites related to the tech-sector and others related to civil liberties.

Cquote1.svg City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words 'cult' and 'Scientology kills' during protests against the Church of Scientology on Saturday 10 May. Cquote2.svg

City of London Police

In a statement given to publications including The Guardian and The Register, a representative for the City of London Police explained the rationale for the summons: "City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words 'cult' and 'Scientology kills' during protests against the Church of Scientology on Saturday 10 May. Following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service some demonstrators were warned verbally and in writing that their signs breached section five of the Public Order Act 1986. One demonstrator, a juvenile, continued to display a placard despite police warnings and was reported for an offence under section five. A file on the case will be sent to the CPS."

"City of London Police upholds the right to demonstrate lawfully, but we have to balance that with the rights of all sections of the community not to be alarmed, distressed or harassed as a result of others' actions," said City of London Chief Superintendent Rob Bastable in a statement given to The Register and The Daily Telegraph. Unlike the City of London Police, the Metropolitan Police Service (the territorial police force responsible for Greater London excluding the City of London) has not raised an issue with protesters using the word "cult", according to Londonist.

Cquote1.svg ... if we receive a file we will review it in the normal way according to the code for crown prosecutors. Cquote2.svg

Crown Prosecution Service

A spokesman for the CPS told The Guardian that they did not give City of London Police specific instruction about the boy's protest sign. The spokesman said that the CPS gave the City of London Police "general advice" about the laws governing protests and "religiously aggravated crime", but did not give advice about this specific case. "... if we receive a file we will review it in the normal way according to the code for crown prosecutors," said the CPS spokesman.

Protesters and police in London at the April 12, 2008 Project Chanology international protest against Scientology
Image: James Harrison.

The City of London Police has faced controversy in the past for its close association with the Church of Scientology. When the City of London Scientology building opened in 2006, City of London Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley praised Scientology in an appearance as guest speaker at the building's opening ceremony. Ken Stewart, another of the City of London's chief superintendents, has also appeared in a video praising Scientology. According to The Guardian over 20 officers for the City of London Police have accepted gifts from the Church of Scientology including tickets to film premieres, lunches and concerts at police premises. Janet Kenyon-Laveau, spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in the UK, told The Guardian that the relationship between the City of London Police and Scientology was mutually beneficial, and said that Scientologists conducted clean-up campaigns in urban areas affected by drug use problems. A City of London Police spokesman released a statement in November 2006 saying: "We are conducting a review to ensure that all members of staff are aware of the force policy on accepting hospitality and to assess whether clarification or amendment of this policy is necessary."

Each of the Project Chanology international protests against Scientology has had a theme: the February protest called attention to the birthday of Lisa McPherson, who died under controversial circumstances while under the care of Scientology, the March protest was arranged to take place two days after Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's birthday, the April protest highlighted the Church of Scientology's disconnection policy, and the May protest highlighted the Scientology practice of "Fair Game" and took place one day after the anniversary of the publication of Hubbard's book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Another international protest is planned for June 14, and will highlight the Church of Scientology's elite "Sea Organization" or "Sea Org".

 
This story has updates
 
See No prosecution for UK minor who called Scientology a 'cult'
 


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