Outfitted with white masks and sunglasses, protesters in front of the Santa Barbara Church of Scientology this weekend wanted their messages, but not their faces, remembered.
A group of protesters crowded outside the establishment at 524 State St. on Saturday afternoon and waved signs at passing cars. Members of the group claimed that they were only trying to provide the public with important information about the religion’s alleged restrictions of free speech and profiteering through pyramid schemes.
First-year physics major William Wynn said that he created the event on Facebook in order to encourage student participation. Wynn said the focus of the group’s dissatisfaction was not the doctrine of Scientology, but its members’ alleged actions.
“There are documented instances of tragic deaths, strange things that shouldn’t be happening,” Wynn said. “We have nothing against their beliefs, they have that right, but these ethical and moral things are coming up and that’s what we have a problem with.”
Lee Holzinger, the leader of the church’s Santa Barbara location, offered to respond to some of the allegations made against Scientology. He said that the organization has always supported the right to free speech, but he alleged that the protest itself seemed as if it was trying to incite violence.
“People have the right to express themselves,” Holzinger said. “The Church of Scientology has always defended the right of freedom of expression. However, hate speech intended to incite violence is of great concern for the entire community.”
Almost every protester remained masked and completely anonymous, out of fear of repercussions from the church if they exposed their identities. One protester, who had his shirt wrapped around his face, said that he distrusted the establishment because officials allegedly charge money to disclose information.
“Any doctrine should be open for anyone to discuss and have,” the protester said. “Scientology, on the other hand, is the only religion that charges people to go through a program system to be able to find information that they may later on disagree with.”
Another member that identified himself as “Five,” said that although the protesters’ claims against Scientology may seem strange, he takes the allegations very seriously.
“When we really looked into it, it was disturbing enough to want to do something about it,” the protester said. “It’s really disturbing having an organization that tries to stop free speech and tries to stop dissidence and slowly tries to take over control of an area.”
Holzinger said the church is transparent in its history and has always been an active participant in aiding the entire community.
“In addition to providing services for its local congregation, the Santa Barbara Church of Scientology has been active in anti-drug and human rights campaigns, as well as bringing help to the broader community through the assistance of its trained volunteer ministers,” Holzinger said.
According to Wynn, Facebook and other networking sites have proved an effective channel for rallying individuals behind this cause. Wynn said that this protest was not an isolated event, but that several groups across the country were currently investigating and protesting the alleged actions of the church.
“It started online with a group called Anonymous,” Wynn said. “They got upset with Scientology because the church hides important documents that are supposed to be released to the public.”