Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Scientology's problems on Clearwater land deal are of its own making

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is asking the Pinellas County Commissionfor for $26 million in tourist tax dollars, but the Church of Scientology says the facility doesn’t deserve it. The church sent a complaint to local and state officials, alleging the aquarium has a number of financial problems and should be denied the money. Aquarium director David Yates says the church’s allegations are unfounded. The aquarium last week sold a prime piece of downtown land to the city, against the church’s wishes.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is asking the Pinellas County Commissionfor for $26 million in tourist tax dollars, but the Church of Scientology says the facility doesn’t deserve it. The church sent a complaint to local and state officials, alleging the aquarium has a number of financial problems and should be denied the money. Aquarium director David Yates says the church’s allegations are unfounded. The aquarium last week sold a prime piece of downtown land to the city, against the church’s wishes.

I've been bothered by these questions all week:

What if it had been the Roman Catholic diocese? What if it had been the Jewish Federations of North America?

What if it had been any religious organization other than the Church of Scientology being snubbed by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in a land purchase deal?

I can't say for certain, but I assume there would have been some consternation. A lot of hand-wringing. Maybe even some people in positions of prominence talking about religious discrimination.

After all, the Scientology folks offered more than triple the price the city of Clearwater agreed to pay the aquarium for a coveted piece of downtown land.

The church's lawyers have certainly suggested the deal is shady. As the Tampa Bay Times' Tracey McManus reported, the church has complained to the state attorney general, the auditor general and other elected officials about a nonprofit organization that receives taxpayer funds and then turns around and cuts a sweetheart deal with a government entity.

Eventually, I came to these conclusions:

1. Philosophically, the Scientologists have a point.

2. Realistically, they got what they deserve.

In the end, this wasn't about religion. Not in the theological sense.

Frankly, I don't think most people care about Scientology's religious doctrines, auditing exercises or past life theories. Pretty much every religion requires its own peculiar leaps of faith.

This is about Scientology's reputation in the community. And that's a mess.

Scientology has invited almost all of its problems with an aggressive, vindictive and bullying manner when it comes to dealing with anyone questioning the church's mission.

That includes elected officials, journalists, former members and even parents, children and siblings who are outside the church.

Defending your religion is entirely understandable. Hiring private detectives or conducting smear campaigns — and there seems to be ample evidence that this happens routinely — is something completely different.

Does the church have a right to be disappointed by the aquarium's land sale? Of course.

Does it have a right to question how a nonprofit could ignore the huge difference in offers? Absolutely.

But it seemed counterproductive to deliver an extensive and accusatory portfolio to the Pinellas County Commission that aquarium officials contend was rife with half-truths.

Commission chair Janet Long said it was ironic that the church accused the aquarium of acting in bad faith after Scientology officials assured her more than a year ago that they were not buying additional land in downtown Clearwater, only to snatch up numerous parcels under the guise of anonymous corporations.

"They are not honorable, trustworthy partners,'' Long said. "They intimidate. They bully. They lie. Those are not qualities you normally think of when you're talking about a church.''

I know very little about Scientology other than one of its core beliefs is that the truth is what you witness. And, around here, there are plenty of witnesses to the church's darker impulses.

Sadly, it doesn't need to be that way.

Romano: Scientology's problems on Clearwater land deal are of its own making 04/29/17 [Last modified: Sunday, April 30, 2017 9:16am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Longtime Tarpon Springs fire chief is retiring

    Fire

    TARPON SPRINGS — Sept. 6 will be fire Chief Richard Butcher's last day after seven years as chief and 39 years in the city's fire department. He formally submitted his decision to retire on July 6. On July 11, the Tarpon Springs board of commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Deputy Fire Chief Scott …

    Tarpon Springs Fire Chief Richard Butcher is retiring after 39 years at the fire department. [Courtesy of Tarpon Springs]
  2. Florida prisons have toilet paper, but they're not supplying it to some inmates

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The four wings of Florida's Tomoka Correctional Institution's E cell block is home to some of the prison's most menacing inmates. They have arrived there because of administrative and disciplinary problems but, in addition to restricting them to confined, two-man cells, the prison also deprives them …

    Rep. David Richardson, D- Miami Beach, continues to find shocking lapses in how state prisons treat inmates. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. New job for Pinellas mentor to first-year teachers

    Blogs

    Remember Kali Davis, a Pinellas school district teacher whose job last year was to mentor and coach 26 first-year teachers in six of the district's lowest-performing …

    Kali Davis (left), training director for Springboard to Success, helps to coach Justin Black (center), who will be starting his third year of teaching PE at Melrose Elementary, as he works to instruct students in a math lesson during the Spring Board program of Summer Bridge at Woodlawn Elementary School in St. Petersburg. Davis' year-round job has shifted from coaching first-year teachers at six struggling schools to an instructional coach at Ridgecrest Elementary in Largo.
  4. Good news: Tampa Bay no longer a major foreclosure capital of the country

    Real Estate

    Once in the top five nationally for foreclosure filings, the Tampa Bay area no longer ranks even in the top 25.

    A few short years ago, Tampa Bay was a national hub for foreclosures. Not any more. [Getty Images/iStockphoto]
  5. Largo promotes Joseph Pennino to deputy fire chief

    Public Safety

    LARGO — The city has a new deputy fire chief after Dave Mixson left the post to take a job as chief and director of public safety of the South Pasadena Fire Department.

    Largo Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Pennino