Riverside County in Southern California recently passed an ordinance to control protesting outside of a major Scientology facility. Protest organizations have targeted Golden Era Productions, a major producer and distributor of church material, as a prime location to picket and protest. Yet according to church officials, the protests have exceeded the bounds of safety. Campus and church employees have been the recipients of bomb and death threats and many of the 500 persons who live on and near the property feel unsafe. This is why the church requested and received an ordinance to keep demonstrators at least 50 feet off the property and away from personal living quarters.
Unfortunately this ordinance has created an internal conflict in and around first amendment rights, free exercise of religion versus freedom of speech. Protestors argue that the ordinance limits their right to peaceably assemble and protest. And many view this as simply another example of the church flexing its powerful and well-financed muscle before government officials.
Yet this comes across as a very loose interpretation of freedom of speech. We should defend our freedom to protest at all costs. But what happens when the voices of the majority impinge upon the religious freedoms and individual rights of a minority group? Do not Scientologists have the right to worship, work and live in peace? If they are breaking the law inside Golden Era Productions, protesters should file a complaint, allow police to obtain a warrant, and I will eagerly anticipate (and welcome) watching Tom Cruise taken away in handcuffs. Otherwise they may need to chill out. Their speech is just as free from across the street as it is at the door of the Mothership.