More on the anti-Scientology protesters fined in Birmingham

Regarding my previous article, this thread on the Enturbulation forums is well worth reading in full. The main points I draw from it are as follows:

  • The protesters had been warned twice that they were not allowed to leaflet in the area concerned and were issued £50 fixed penalty notices under the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act 2005. This Act has a clear exemption for material handed out for political purposes or for a religion or belief. It seems to me that protesting against Scientology counts as a political purpose.
  • The protesters were warned that if they used the word “cult” on a sign or a flyer they will be arrested for religious hatred! Note that the Religious and Racial Hatred Act also has a protection for freedom of speech (see Section 29J of the amendment to the Public Order Act) that reads:
    Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

If the facts of the case are as described in that forum, then it seems to me that the police’s actions in this case do not accord with the law.

West Midlands police fine anti-Scientology protesters for handing out leaflets?

[Hat Tip: The Pub Philosopher]

I’d be grateful if anyone can confirm/corroborate this story…

According to a post on enturbulation.org:

A mini raid on the “org” in Birmingham today ended with four demonstrators handing out leaflets being issued with £50 fixed penalty tickets by Police and a Birmingham city warden under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act.

On two previous ocassions Police had warned them they were breaking the law for handing out leaflets.

Another interesting interpretation or perhaps (mis) interpretation of the law given the Act was designed to stop people handing out commercial flyers, and Section 8.8 of the act allows for the “distribution of leaflets where the distribution is charitable or religious purposes so as not to inhibit right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought and conscience and religion enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998”..

A PCSO from the same police force recently told a couple of Christians that they could not hand out leaflets in a Muslim area.

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Sunday Herald article on Glasgow police banning "cult" placards last weekend

The Sunday Herald have a report on the events I witnessed last weekend. Apparently they got this comment from Strathclyde Police:

Strathclyde Police admitted officers had stopped activists using the word “cult” after receiving a complaint.

A spokeswoman said: “The word is not a breach of the peace in itself. However, in this case it was exacerbating the situation and our stance was that we had to remove that.

“From a policing point of view, a balance has to be struck between the right to assemble and hold a meeting and other persons’ rights to go about their business or demonstrate without being obstructed or hindered.”

I’ve seen the protesters out several times in recent weeks. As far as I can tell they have not hindered the public using Buchanan Street nor have they prevented the Scientologists from organising their “free stress tests”. They have simply held up placards and worn masks. They may have used some chants but if so I’ve not witnessed that. To me, it seems they have done nothing wrong and the police have failed to justify their action.

If someone you’re protesting against can get the police to remove your placards simply because they (claim to) find a word on the placard offensive, then it seems to me the right to peaceful protest is dead.

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Scientology, Britain’s police and politicians

In light of the recent episodes regarding Scientology and the police, I decided to see what stories were around relating to Scientology’s influence in Britain. I came across a number of stories:

  • Apparently, the Labour party have been given thousands of pounds from the Church of Scientology and allowed a Scientology-backed stall at one of their conferences. From the link:

    They allowed the charity, the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE), to take a stall at the party’s annual conference in Manchester.

    Exhibitors at the conference have to pay up to £13,500. The stand was part of an extensive lobbying operation by Scientology members to promote its drug treatment programme, Narconon, and the criminal rehabilitation scheme Criminon.

    Correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Evening Standard reveals how Graeme Wilson of the Church of Scientology met Baroness Scotland – then a Home Office minister – in Manchester in September.

    Baroness Scotland was later invited to attend the opening of the Scientology’s new base in London and was handed information about Narconon.

  • The Church of Scientology has spent thousands of pounds on gifts for members of the City of London Police:

    The Church of Scientology appears to be involved in an effort to woo officers from the City of London police – an unlikely partnership perhaps, but one that seems to be blossoming. Details of how more than 20 officers, from constables to chief superintendents, have been invited to a series of engagements by the scientologists over the last 15 months have been revealed by a freedom of information inquiry by the Guardian.

    The hospitality included guest invitations in May for two constables and a sergeant to attend the premiere of Mission Impossible 3 in Leicester Square, where they were able to rub shoulders with the best known Scientologist of all and the star of the film, Tom Cruise.

    The Guardian requested details of meetings between police and scientologists after a senior officer from the City appeared as a guest speaker at the opening of the £23m Scientology centre near St Paul’s Cathedral last month.

    At the lavish ceremony, Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley, the fourth most senior officer in the force, praised the scientologists for the support they had provided after the July 7 attacks, when followers of L Ron Hubbard’s movement appeared at the police cordons of the Aldgate bomb site offering help to those involved in the emergency operation. The relationship flourished in the following months, according to the City police’s register of hospitality, which all officers are required to fill out.

  • The Metropolitan Police have given the Church access to data on security alerts.
  • The police have also used Scientology leaflets in anti-drugs drives in Britain’s schools:

    In total 1m booklets are distributed each year. They label alcohol and antidepressants as “poison” and say that oxycodone, a prescription painkiller, is “as powerful as heroin”.

    A booklet on heroin says methadone, the drug used by the NHS to treat heroin addicts, is as dangerous as the class A drug and should not be prescribed.

    Martin Barnes, of DrugScope, the drugs information charity, said: “These booklets fall short and should not be allowed in schools.”

    Met officers have attended meetings in London and West Sussex hosted by the church, aimed at forging links with “community leaders”. They were briefed about the Say No to Drugs campaign and given information packs – although Scotland Yard said working with the church should not be seen as an endorsement.

Clearly the Church of Scientology are gaining some influence in Britain.

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Glasgow anti-Scientology protestors told to bin "cult" signs

Today I was helping out at the Glasgow NO2ID’s stall in Buchanan Street. As we were packing up, Geraint, the Glasgow No2ID group coordinator mentioned that the police had been called to an anti-Scientology protest taking place further up the street.

I’d noticed the “free stress test” stalls run by the Scientologists earlier in the day, and we were both curious as to what was happening so we went to chat to the protestors. The police were still talking to them when we got there. I was told by one protestor that a “May Day” flag had been confiscated, and that they were being told that the word “cult” was offensive and, if I recall correctly, if they continued to use it it would constitute a “breach of the peace”.

Also, I personally witnessed one of the protestors taking some signs to the bin at the direction of one of the officers. The signs being binned apparently used the word “cult”. Geraint later told me he’d seen a the protestors holding a sign saying “Cult” with an arrow on it which was held so as to point at the scientologists. This was presumably one of the binned signs. The protestors were however allowed to continue their protest, though the were told to make sure they were well over the other side of the street from the Scientologists. I’ll add that the police were perfectly civil towards the protestors as far as I could tell.

However apparently Glasgow police think it is “offensive” to describe Scientology as a cult, or at least were willing to act on the basis of offence caused to whoever phoned them up to complain (most probably one of the Scientologists).

And this episode, along with the recent episode in London (which has had a happy ending thankfully), illustrates why “causing offense” should not be considered a valid restriction on freedom of speech or the right to peaceful protest. People can (claim to) take offence at ANYTHING, including purely factual statements. Not causing offense may be good manners, but you should not be required by law to do so since that allows people to silence those whose message they simply don’t like and to silence those exposing awkward truths.

The Church of Scientology would love to have the power to silence its critics and it seems the idea that causing offence is sufficient grounds to curb someone’s speech or protests is beginning to give them that power here in Britain.

Scientology is a cult…

…according to this court judgement from Judge Latey, who repeatedly describes Scientology as a cult:

In Re: T Minors (Transcript of judgments given on 10th December 1975) the Court of Appeal was concerned with children one of whose parents was a member of another and very different sect. In the course of his judgement Lord Justice Scarman (as he then was) stressed that “it is conceded that there is nothing immoral or socially obnoxious in the beliefs and practices of this sect”. Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. Mr. Kennedy did not exaggerate when he termed it “pernicious”. In my judgement it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power for Mr.

Hubbard, his wife and those close to him at the top. It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those outside who criticise or oppose it. 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.

Also, here is the definition of the word “cult” from the Compact Oxford English Dictionary online:

cult

• noun 1 a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object. 2 a small religious group regarded as strange or as imposing excessive control over members. 3 something popular or fashionable among a particular section of society.

It seems to me, from reading Judge Latey’s judgement, that Scientology falls under the second definition above. Why am I saying this now? Because there are those seeking to prevent people from being able to describe Scientology as a cult, including the City of London Police, according to the Register:

His sign read: “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.”

Within five minutes of arriving, the teenager was approached by a female police officer and told he was not allowed to use the word “cult” to describe Scientology, and that the Inspector in charge would make a decision. Soon afterwards officers again approached, read Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and handed him this notice.

The Act makes it an offence to display “any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby”.

The Register article also states:

City of London Police gave us this statement:

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.

I hope this case gets thrown out, otherwise people’s ability to say what they believe to be true, and engage in peaceful protest, will have been seriously undermined.