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Tie to rights march wasn't revealed

Some sponsors back out upon learning the Church of Scientology is the organizer.

By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published April 7, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - Just weeks after opening their first facility in St. Petersburg, Scientologists have irked two of the city's most respected institutions - the Holocaust and Dali museums.

Representatives of both museums say they were misled when asked to support a human rights march but not told that the organizers are a rights advocacy group affiliated with the Church of Scientology.

The Florida Holocaust Museum has withdrawn its sponsorship of the Human Rights Walkathon scheduled for today in Straub Park and asked that its logo be removed from the event's Web site.

"We support human rights but we think the organizers should have been forthright about the link to Scientology," said the museum's director of communications Shelly Mizrahi.

The event is organized by Youth for Human Rights, a local subgroup of International Youth for Human Rights, which is part of the Church of Scientology.

The Walkathon Web site says that "the coming together of all these various groups, banks like AmSouth, the Dali Museum, the Holocaust Museum, schools and churches such as the Church of Scientology, the Church, the St. Pete Muslim faith and the Nation of Islam is an excellent demonstration of how working together ... makes a society come together and grow."

But it says nothing about the Church of Scientology being behind the event.

To promote the event, the public affairs office of the Church of Scientology in Clearwater gave a St. Petersburg Times reporter brochures on the event and asked for coverage in February.

But, now, organizer Linda Drazkowski, a Scientologist, is distancing the church from the event.

"I wouldn't say that the Church of Scientology is behind it," Drazkowski said. "It's in coordination with them, but it's my event, not theirs."

Mizrahi said she and her staff were "unhappy" that the organizers "named the Holocaust Museum as a sponsor and used our logo without our permission." The information was removed Thursday from the Web site.

Two people, who said they were part of the human rights event, came to the museum a few weeks ago and asked for a few dozen free passes to the museum, which Mizrahi said she happily gave them. But rather than say the event was organized by a subgroup of the Church of Scientology, the visitors left a DVD in a public area by a TV.

"We found The Teachings of L. Ron Hubbard hours after they left," she said.

The Dali Museum also was concerned that organizers were not forthcoming about the event's ties to Scientology and permission to use the museum's logo. Still, it decided to remain a sponsor.

"This is not about Scientology," said Karen White, spokeswoman for the Dali Museum. "It is about being listed as a sponsor without agreeing up front, and it's about saying nothing about the link to Scientology."

But the Museum decided to stick with the event because of how it would look if it withdrew.

"While the issue is not discrimination, we were concerned our withdrawal might be viewed as somewhat discriminatory," she said.

Rob Lorei, news director for community radio station WMNF-FM 88.5, said the station considered being a sponsor after it was approached. "We did some research and were uncomfortable when we discovered the Scientology involvement, which they hadn't mentioned," Lorei said. "Because they didn't reveal their backing, we decided not to participate."

AmSouth gave $500 to be a "sponsor for human rights," said bank spokesperson Jerri Franz.

"We were told nothing about the link to Scientology and would like to have known that," Franz said. "But we're sticking with the sponsorship."

Peter Mansel, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology, said he can "understand wanting to know who's involved."

"We are absolutely behind this event," Mansel said. "But maybe we backed off from saying that because the press would make it appear that the purpose was to promote Scientology instead of human rights."

"Besides," Mansel said, "a number of the sponsors did know the connection."

One was Postcard Mania, whose manager Karla Jo Helms, a Scientologist, said she did promotional work with Drazkowski for the event "to get the word out about human rights."

"But the most important thing," said Mansel, "is not who's behind it and who knew but that it's an event to promote people coming together."

Drazkowski, who has worked long hours to organize the event, said the proceeds will be used to make a movie from the human rights public service announcements on the Web site.

Times staff writer Rob Farley contributed to this report. Meg Laughlin can be reached at mlaughlin@sptimes.com or (727)893-8068.

[Last modified April 7, 2007, 06:30:30]


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