Freedom Federal Court Rules: City of Clearwater Officials’ Actions Are “Patently Offensive to the First Amendment”

ectarian fervor...” “Patently offensive...” “Unconstitutional.” These are just some of the words used by one of the nation’s highest courts, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, in describing the Clearwater city government of the 1980s.

     You have probably never heard these words in their context. The full story of what happened and why has never been told. And for good reason. The decision was a blistering indictment of the handful of city officials who initiated, directed and participated in a vicious assault on civil rights – and they have done all they could to downplay it. You will certainly never read about it in the St. Petersburg Times for, when the campaign against the Church of Scientology was in full heat, they were a central player.

“...these statements of purpose reveal an underlying objective to employ the tax laws to discriminate against Scientology, a purpose that is patently offensive to the First Amendment.”

– U.S. Court of Appeals
for the 11th Circuit


     Nonetheless, that judicial opinion is the only completely objective account of what the 1980s meant in terms of relations between the city and thousands of its residents. And remember – what you read here is not merely our view. It is a matter of established judicial fact.

“Sectarian fervor”

     A search of the law books for the most significant decisions on civil rights in America of the 1990s would soon reveal a 1993 decision entitled Church of Scientology v. City of Clearwater. In issuing that decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found city officials, throughout the 1980s, involved in a “political movement... driven by an upsurge of sectarian fervor intent on driving Scientology from Clearwater.” The court further found that purpose “patently offensive to the First Amendment.”

     The decision stands as the ultimate condemnation of discriminatory conduct – a pattern which stretched back nearly two decades. That pattern included the incitement of hostility and violence while Police Chief Sid Klein instituted a “no action” policy concerning any and all complaints from Scientology parishioners. Indeed, as later revealed, all such complaints were and continue to be sent to a collective file under “Scientologist.”

     In one telling instance, an individual who stole money from the Church was reported to the police. The police, in turn, found the thief, interviewed her, congratulated her and allowed her to keep the purloined funds. (See “Discriminatory Police Policies Documented”.)

     That pattern also included Klein’s support of any and all “anti-Scientology” elements, even to the point of aiding in their fund-raising efforts. Imagine the outcry if city government documents were revealed describing support of “anti-Jew” rallies or “anti-Catholic” demonstrations. Clearwater government documents reveal as much and more. Then there are the public statements such as those of present Mayor and former Commissioner Rita Garvey, whose campaign literature encouraged the community to “destroy the organization at the top.”

     The court also quoted her comment to an associate concerning how to handle letters from Scientologists to the city commission: “I think you should get a paper shredder.”

     Yet Garvey was only one voice in a chorus which included then- Mayor Charles LeCher, City Manager Anthony Shoemaker and then-City Commissioners James Calderbank and Richard Tenney. LeCher, Tenney and Calderbank made Scientology an issue during their reelection campaigns.

     The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit described the setting: “This reference to the continuing political movement against Scientology during election campaigns is amply corroborated by unrebutted newspaper clippings contained in several volumes of the record.”

Federal Court Rules: City of Clearwater Officials’ Actions Are
“Patently Offensive to the First Amendment” continued...

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