Tue, Oct 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Glamour marks opening of Scientology London center

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A crowd waits in the rain outside the Church of Scientology's new center during an opening celebration in London on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

The rain bounced off a podium fit for an Oscar ceremony, soaking the lavish red carpet, and pouring down the collars of celebrants sporting incongruous California tans and sunglasses. Each wore a lapel badge marking them out as followers of one of the most controversial and fastest growing "religious" movements in the world, the Church of Scientology.

For two hours on Sunday, Hollywood glitz supplanted British mundanity on the streets of London as seniormost figures within the movement joined 5,000 members from all over the world for the opening of their US$45 million "church" in the heart of London.

City of London police closed roads and 3m high screens on either side of the building, a five-story former bible center on Queen Victoria Street, relayed proceedings to thousands of followers who stood beneath specially-designed Church of Scientology umbrellas to watch.

The opening of the vast complex, with its marble floors, stuccoed pillars and gold lettering, is testament to the growing financial strength of the Scientology movement which boasts 10 million members worldwide, including 123,000 in the UK.

Standing on the sidelines, a handful of protesters chanting "Stop Scientology ruining lives" were the only sign that not everyone welcomed the new and dominating presence in London of an association which has been investigated by the FBI since it was formed in the 1950s by the science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard and faces accusations that it is a modern-day cult.

One demonstrator, who gave his name only as Stefan, claimed that during his nine years in the association, which asks all followers to donate a minimum of US$450 a year, he had lost his home.

His complaints remained unheard from the podium where Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley, the fourth most senior police officer in the City of London, welcomed the Scientologists to their new home, just a stone's throw from St Paul's Cathedral.

Hurley said the Scientologists were a "force for good" in London and were "raising the spiritual wealth of society."

The standing ovation, however, was reserved for David Miscavige, chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Center, the senior ecclesiastical structure which runs the religion.

He promised Scientology could "improve the grades of schoolchildren across the education system in one term, completely reverse 80-90 percent recidivist crime rates and cut drug addiction by 10-20 percent within a generation."

This story has been viewed 4040 times.
TOP top