Clearwater to Keep Battling Scientology

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: October 21, 1993

The city is still fighting the Church of Scientology.

Despite a strongly worded recent court decision in favor of Scientology, city commissioners have decided to continue the decade-long legal battle over a rule that would let the city police the organization's financial records.

The commissioners reached their decision at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Alan Zimmet, a lawyer who attended the meeting, said Wednesday.

"They took a very strong stance to fight," said Zimmet, a private attorney whom the city is paying to work on the case.

Zimmet asked an appeals court in Atlanta to review the decision in favor of Scientology, which called the city's rule unconstitutional. His petition was filed Wednesday with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Commissioners refused to comment on the case, referring all questions to Zimmet.

But Commissioner Fred Thomas said he was annoyed by the scores of letters sent by Scientologists to lobby him before the Tuesday meeting. He called one letter "threatening" and said it amounted to a "declaration of war" against the city.

Scientology, in a written statement Wednesday, said the commission's decision amounted to a waste of public money. The organization's statement also referred to a recent IRS decision to classify Scientology as a tax-exempt institution, the same as other churches and charitable organizations across the country. That decision is unrelated to the Clearwater case.

"What the commission has decided to fight for is not for some 10-year-old ordinance," said the statement, written by spokesman Richard Haworth. "They have decided to fight the U.S. Constitution, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Internal Revenue Service, a coalition of national religious groups and all the churches who raise funds or have their homes in Clearwater."

Some religious leaders also expressed disappointment with the city's decision to continue the fight. The city's proposed ordinance applies to other churches as well as Scientology.

"The city of Clearwater is treading a dangerous line if it is trying to ask churches to open their books to public scrutiny," said the Rev. David Charles Smith of Faith United Christian Church in Clearwater.

Smith's church is allied with a coalition of religious and civil-rights groups that joined Scientology in suing to block the city's proposed rule. Smith, who is also president of the 20-member Upper Pinellas Ministerial Association, emphasized that he does not support Scientology but disagrees on principle with the city's decision.