Monday, September 11, 1995
By Jennifer Booth
Daily Free Press Staff Writer
BOSTON, Sept. 11, 1995 -- Waving signs reading, "Hands off the Internet" and "Scientology harasses former members," some 15 Internet rights advocates Saturday took their battle against the Church of Scientology out of cyberspace and into the public eye.
Protesters in front of the church's Beacon Street headquarters drew Boston University into the demonstration by condemning board of trustee chairman Earle C. Cooley, a lawyer for the church, and preparing to distribute informational leaflets on BU's campus.
The debate between the groups centers around a collection of church documents known as the OT Materials that several Scientology opponents launched over the Internet during the past year. Used as court testimony in a 1994 California case between a former Scientologist and the church, the materials were public record until a few months ago.
But the materials were stolen from the church, Scientology officials said. The documents were church trade secrets, protected from re-publication even when they were open court records, the officials added.
In a series of controversial raids, a group of Scientologists, joined by Cooley, invaded homes of several former members to seize the computers that they had used to launch select pieces of the OT Material over the Internet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.
For the church, the battle is over copyright infringement. But Saturday's protesters, citing testimony from former members, said the church regularly harasses any who oppose it and threatens to curtail free speech on the Internet by taking critics, including the alleged copyright infringers, to court.
Carrying a sign reading, "War on the Internet: Scientology and Boston's Earle C. Cooley of BU have blood on their hands," Robert Mentin, a Boston resident, said he came to protest Scientology's alleged attack on free speech and to oppose the suffering that he said the group has caused.
"I base my opinion [on human suffering] on the stories I've read over the Internet from real people who have written to the news group alt.religion.scientology," Mentin said.
Many at the protest said they learned of the Internet controversy by reading material from the newsgroup- a collection of information about the church, its legal activity, its beliefs and its alleged harassment of critics.
But most protesters cited the stories written by disgruntled former Scientologists, some of whom claim the church "brainwashed" them. Several said the OT Material should be released, claiming the church keeps them secret from its followers, who know little of the group they find themselves a member of.
Last week, church spokeswoman Lisa Goodman discredited such stories. She said that many former members, for one reason or another, have waged a hate campaign against Scientology. Two of the alleged copyright infringers, according to Goodman, had been kicked out of the church for unethical behavior and they now want to discredit Scientology.
According to Ron Newman, a Somerville resident who runs a World Wide Web page on Scientology, Boston protesters were not alone Saturday in their crusade. An Arizona-based reader of alt.religion.scientology called for readers and church critics from across the world to protest alleged Internet violations last Saturday, a Scientology holiday.
"What we hope to accomplish is telling people what is going on and the issues," Newman said. "We also want to tell people coming out of the church what the hierarchy of the church is doing."
It is more important, some demonstrators said, to inform BU students of the legal activities of Cooley.
In a flyer titled, "War on the Internet: Bad for Boston University?" critics accuse the church of harassment, which they say Cooley has legally arranged.
"The Church has made extensive use of private investigators and the legal system to silence and intimidate these critics. Mr. Cooley has been an active participant in this legal harassment," the flyer read.
A protester, who said he wished to remain anonymous for fear of church reprisal, has made three trips to campus so far and plans to visit several times this week.
"I specifically believe Earle Cooley needs to either stop representing the church or to stop being a trustee at BU," Newman said. "The two are highly incompatible."
Cooley told The Daily Free Press for a previous article that he was proud to work for the group, which he said is a minority religion in need of strong legal representation. He also said his work would have no effect on BU, and that he considered the university's support of his controversial legal cases a tribute to BU.
Church representatives, who dotted the demonstrating crowd, said they understood why the Internet advocates were protesting, but they vowed to protect their copyright.
"When they violate the legal rights about copyright, that's when judges gave permission to raid the homes," said Bernard Percy, a Scientologist and author of educational books. "They take things out of context and present it incorrectly."
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