"Scientology foes to stand trial for horn-honking", by Craig Robertson CLEARWATER- Alex Cornell and three other persons must stand trial for allegedly causing a disturbance at Church of Scientology headquarters, a county judge ruled Wednesday.
In a two-page ruling, County Judge Catherine Harlan upheld most of a Clearwater noise-control ordinance under which Scientology critics Cornell and the three others were charged in September.
The trial is scheduled to begin Friday.
For two months, Cornell has led a persistent band of placard-bearing Scientology foes in a daily rush-hour demonstration in front of the Scientology-owned Fort Harrison Hotel. Passing motorists are urged to honk if they do not like Scientology. The protest is usually accompanied by a din of honking.
Cornell attorney Beverly Roberts had argued that the charges should be dismissed because the ordinance violates the defendant's right to free speech.
Harlan ruled tht a portion of the ordinance that bans "any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise" is "overly broad" and infringes on the constitutional guarantee of free speech.
But another part of the noise-control law is valid, Harlan ruled.
That part makes it a crime to cause "any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others..."
"The balance between an individual's freedom of expression and community's right to control conduct and speech that causes harm to others is a delicate one," Harlan wrote.
But, she added, "the manner in which (the defendants) have proceeded appears to be one that violates the laws of their community and the community has a right to restrict their conduct to prevent the expression from violating the rights of others."
Even as the ruling was filed late Wednesday afternoon, a glum-looking Cornell and his band were in front of the Fort Harrison Hotel, holding up signs with such messages as "Honk out Scientology"
and "Caution: Clone Zone."
Asked for his reaction to the ruling, Cornell said, "I believe this is a free country and that a person can hold a sign or wear a T-shirt with anything they want printed on it."
The three charged with Cornell are all from Clearwater. They are Joan E. Wilder, 28, 1512 Missouri Ave.; Wilberta Johnson, 44, 301 Belcher Road, and Violet Contois, 33, 1201 Seminole Blvd.
Violations of the ordinance is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $500 or a jail term of up to 60 days.