Court Condemns Prejudice in Clearwater

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rom the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Church of Scientology v. City of Clearwater: “...these materials provide explicit evidence that the city commission conducted its legislative process from beginning to end with the intention of singling out Scientology for burdensome regulation. The record shows a widespread political movement, apparently driven by an upsurge of sectarian fervor, intent on driving Scientology from Clearwater. It also shows that various members of the commission had made their affiliation with that movement known to the public in the plainest terms possible, not only in the official legislative record leading to the adoption of the ordinances but also in documents concerning unrelated government activity and in extemporaneous remarks.

     “The city commission hired a Boston lawyer to coordinate the publicly televised hearings that eventually led to adoption of the 1983 and 1984 Ordinances. As reported in the Clearwater media and well known to the commission and the public, [he] had dedicated much of his career to fighting Scientology. It was [he] who first suggested adoption of a charitable solicitation ordinance, the avowed purpose of which was to target Scientology.”

     “Although proper enforcement of property tax laws is a legitimate local governmental interest, the highly charged political context in which it was pursued created a risk that the taxation purpose was a mere pretext. Certainly, the City had no interest in depriving Scientology of its privilege to pay the lower non- profit rate for the United States mail bulk postage. Nor did the City have any interest in confounding Scientology’s state and federal income tax exemptions. Rather, viewed in the light most favorable to Scientology, 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.”

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