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Amid protest rumors, Scientology asks for restraining order

As members of the group Anonymous protested Scientology in downtown Clearwater in February, church members took photos and videotaped the activists.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

As members of the group Anonymous protested Scientology in downtown Clearwater in February, church members took photos and videotaped the activists.

CLEARWATER — With the Internet activist group Anonymous threatening a second round of protests against Scientology this weekend, the Clearwater-based church went to court late Tuesday, filing a petition for a temporary restraining order.

The petition was filed just before the close of court Tuesday afternoon, and the St. Petersburg Times could not obtain a copy of the petition.

Pat Harney, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, confirmed that the church had filed a request for a temporary restraining order, but on the advice of counsel, she refused to provide a copy of the lawsuit or discuss whom it seeks to restrain.

Anonymous, which describes itself as a loosely affiliated group united against the injustices perpetrated by Scientology, coalesced in January after a video of Scientologist Tom Cruise was leaked to YouTube and then promptly removed because of threats from Scientology attorneys.

Members of Anonymous claimed this was an affront to the freedom of the Internet. A video message from Anonymous taunting the leaders of Scientology received more than 2-million views on YouTube.

On Feb. 10, some 200 people participated in an Anonymous-organized demonstration against Scientology in downtown Clearwater. Similar protests were held in cities around the world.

In Clearwater, church security videotaped and photographed protesters, most of whom disguised their faces with fake beards, face paint, scarves and bandannas.

While Anonymous Web sites ask members to protest peacefully and state that they mean no harm to Scientology's members, Harney said, "We have evidence to the contrary."

Before the lawsuit was filed Tuesday, Harney said the church has documented threats made by members of Anonymous and provided those threats to Clearwater police.

Representatives of Anonymous could not be reached for comment.

This weekend's protests by Anonymous — dubbed "Party Hard" — were timed to coincide with Scientology's annual celebration of founder L. Ron Hubbard's birthday on Thursday.

According to Web sites affiliated with Anonymous, members of the group plan to protest in 50 cities worldwide. In Clearwater, they will gather Friday evening outside Ruth Eckerd Hall, where Scientology will hold its annual gala event.

A larger protest is planned Saturday in downtown Clearwater, where the church's international religious headquarters are located.

"We are taking every security measure we can," Harney said. "We are not taking this lightly."

Amid protest rumors, Scientology asks for restraining order 03/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 6:30am]
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