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Friday, February 8, 2008

Net group to protest Scientology

By Ed Stannard
Register Metro Editor
NEW HAVEN
— An Internet-based group called “Anonymous” is hitting the streets Sunday, incensed by what it calls the Church of Scientology’s suppression of freedom of speech.
The protests will be worldwide, and include a gathering outside the church at 909 Whalley Ave.
A New Haven woman who uses the pseudonym “Daisy” plans to attend. She said she’s not affiliated with Scientology, but is part of Anonymous.
The fight started, she said, when the church demanded that a video of actor Tom Cruise extolling Scientology and using church jargon be taken off the Web. The video “wasn’t supposed to be released, according to them” and was made for church members only, Daisy said Thursday.
She stressed that the protest isn’t against the religion. The group opposes the church’s heavy-handed ways and alleged misuse of its tax-exempt status, she said.
“We’re not attacking the belief system. People can believe any silly thing they want to,” Daisy said. “It’s a corporation masking as a religion.”
Patty Pieniadz of New London, a former 27-year member of the church, has been assisting Anonymous because of her own fight against Scientology. She admitted the Cruise video “definitely violates copyright. They had a legitimate complaint.”
She also thinks Anonymous went too far, taking down Scientology Web sites with “denial of service” attacks.
Daisy said the early members of Anonymous engaged in juvenile “knee-jerk reactions,” but that advisers like Pieniadz have “matured the group.”
But Pieniadz believes the protest is worthwhile because of abuses she’s seen and experienced as a former Scientologist. “I saw a lot of ... real funky financial stuff. ... They’d have a person fill out maybe five or 10 different credit cards.”
She said the church began attacking her when she spoke out, including posting her photo and bankruptcy documents on the Web.
Carol Yingling, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in New Haven, released a statement from the church’s New York office about the protest. “People have the right to express themselves,” the statement said. “The Church of Scientology has always defended the right of freedom of expression. However, hate speech intended to incite violence are of great concern for the entire community.”
Daisy said Anonymous does not advocate “any violence, any illegal activity” at the protest, which she expects 20 to 50 people to attend. Many will wear Guy Fawkes masks, like those in the movie “V for Vengeance,” to keep their identities hidden.
Christel Manning, professor of religious studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, has taught courses about alternative religions, including Scientology. “Historically, Scientology has repeatedly expressed concern about what is said about them,” she said. “They seem to be very concerned about their image.”
The church was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, whose book “Dianetics,” published in 1950, is a best-seller. By using a device called an “electropsychometer” in a process called “auditing,” a Scientologist can move toward a state where he or she becomes free of their body, according to the church’s Web site.

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