Monday, September 11, 1995
By Jessica Collins
Daily Free Press Staff Writer
BOSTON, Sept. 11, 1995 -- As Boston University board of trustee chairman Earle C. Cooley and the Church of Scientology take their claims of copyright infringement to court, some BU students sided with church critics and said that they have the right to air their criticism--and the church's copyrighted material--over the Internet.
Users of the Internet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology have accused the church of harassment and of filing lawsuits against former members and critics when they discuss the religion via the news group.
But the church dismisses these accusations. They say no critics were approached until they distributed some of the church's secret copyrighted information over the Internet. Scientology officials raided the homes of at least four alleged copyright violators to seize their computers in a final attempt to stop them from publicizing the secret documents.
Cooley, the church's lawyer for 11 years, has participated in some of these raids. But Internet rights advocates and users say the documents had been used as court testimony, putting the material on the public record. Because the church is suing those who have posted the material and is allegedly harassing its critics, some say the group is curtailing free speech in cyberspace.
Advocates of Internet rights at BU question the church's actions, claiming members have no right to intimidate critics.
"What real legal basis does the church have to file lawsuits or something if someone mentions something negative about that religion?" asked Juris Jauntirans, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts.
"Other religions are open-ended, meaning that they understand that there will be criticism against them," Jauntirans continued. "If the Church of Scientology consider themselves a religion, then why shouldn't they understand that instead of limiting someone's free speech?"
Through memos written on alt.religion.scientology, former Scientologists have accused the church of keeping information secret from its members, prompting accusations that the group engages in questionable practices.
"If [former members] are trying to educate the public about the church and the church reacts by threatening them, then it looks like the church has something to hide," CLA freshman Jamie Paolozzi said.
Last week, an Internet rights advocate and church critic distributed leaflets on campus that suggest Cooley's involvement with Scientology may hurt BU's reputation. Students interviewed last weekend both supported Cooley's private legal work and criticized his actions.
"He is a representative of BU, and therefore his actions represent BU,'' CLA junior Jennifer Coughlin said.
Others said BU, a non-secular institution, should not allow its top administrators to become entangled in war of religion.
"If Cooley is using BU to help protect the religion, then it will definitely hurt the reputation of the school," College of Communication junior Jock Agorastos said. "His affiliation with the religion will also take away from his credibility."
Adam Harner, a sophomore in the Sargent School of Allied Health Professions, said that since BU is not affiliated with any religion, Cooley should not be blatantly advocating a controversial religion.
But other students said they do not see a connection with Cooley's legal actions and his post as trustee chairman.
"The chairman of the board of trustees is not really a symbol of the school- professors, deans and students have more effect on how the public views the school than the chairman," Jauntirans said.
Some students said that as long as Cooley keeps his legal and ethical integrity, he will not create a scandal for BU, as some Scientology critics suggest.
"BU has gone through worse troubles and I think that as long as he is aware that he is connected to a major university and keeps up the school's integrity, then what he's doing is not that big of a deal," School of Fine Arts senior Diane Babalis said.
The issue has not been widely publicized, and few will even connect Cooley with the university, some students claimed.
"He can't hurt the reputation of BU all by himself," CLA sophomore Karen McCormick said. "I mean, if most students haven't even heard about him and his involvement with the church, then he can't be making that much of a racket."
This article appears on page 7.
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