Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Clearwater board says Scientology violated sign laws

The wrap covered a tent near the Church of Scientology’s Super Power Building in Clearwater. It has since been removed.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The wrap covered a tent near the Church of Scientology’s Super Power Building in Clearwater. It has since been removed.

CLEARWATER— A wrap that until Tuesday covered a massive Church of Scientology tent downtown violated the city's sign laws, a municipal board ruled Wednesday.

The Code Enforcement Board also said if the church places other illegal wraps around the 150,000-square-foot tent that it could be fined $500 a day as a repeat offender. No fine was imposed Wednesday.

The church removed the controversial wrap Tuesday, prompting city officials to wonder if the church planned to attach other wraps for celebrations later this year.

"That may very well be the case," said Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing the church. But Armstrong and church representative Sarah Heller declined to confirm whether more wraps were in the works.

Instead, the church argued that the wrap wasn't a sign, but art albeit intended only for its own members.

Board member Mike Riordon asked why the church didn't seek the city's permission or feedback before putting it up.

"How is it that you think people in general would really believe that you didn't know there would be an issue with this?" Riordon asked Heller.

"If we'd considered it a sign, we absolutely would have come in for a permit," Heller responded.

Armstrong and fellow attorney Gina Grimes said the city's actions infringed on religious freedom, risked violating federal laws protecting that freedom and showed faulty interpretations of its own ordinances.

A city attorney said the issue wasn't about art or religion, but signs.

"We are simply asking that they follow the rules just as any other good corporate citizen, religious citizen or even just a regular plain Jane or Joe Citizen would do," said Camilo A. Soto, assistant city attorney.

The purpose of the multi-colored wrap that included the phrase "Golden Age of Tech" and an acronym for "Keeping Scientology Working" was aesthetic and religious, Heller said.

"They have meanings for Scientologists and to make it look prettier," Heller said.

The board ruled 6-1 that the church had violated the city's sign code.

James E. Strickland, the board's vice-chairman, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Church attorneys said at the outset that they didn't think the board would give the church a fair hearing because of comments made to the Tampa Bay Times by board chairman Duane Schultz. He was quoted in Wednesday's newspaper saying he wished the church would be a better "team player."

Schultz offered to abstain from voting, saying later that he feared saddling the city with legal fees if the vote went against the church. But Armstrong said he was satisfied he would keep an open mind.

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago

Clearwater board says Scientology violated sign laws 11/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 10:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Accountability plan, post-Irma, turnarounds and more

    Blogs

    ACCOUNTABILITY: The Florida Department of Education submits a revised Every Student Succeeds Act plan without the waiver requests it had originally proposed. Experts and advocates …

    High Point Elementary teacher Kristen Bierman works with English language learners on their reading skills. The state wants to test all students in English, saying it's Florida law.
  2. Rays morning after: Zim's legacy felt on bunt play

    Blogs

     

  3. Work, threats continue as Hernando recovers from Irma

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE

    Hurricane Irma's fierce winds are becoming a memory, but the water the storm left behind has become a real threat on Hernando's east side.

    This aerial drone view shows flooding on the Withlacoochee River in the Talisman Estates area of east Hernando, south of Ridge Manor. The river is about 6 feet above flood stage, and its floodwaters are not expected to recede for days.
  4. A boy and a girl stare at the camera from their house after Hurrciane Maria hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, September 20, 2017. The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and turned some streets into raging rivers in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis. [Associated Prss]
  5. Forecast: Dry air, hot temperatures remain in control across Tampa Bay

    Weather

    Dry but hot weather will continue Thursday across Tampa Bay with only a 20 percent chance of showers forecast for the afternoon.

    7 day forecast. [WTSP]