Paris (AP)--Thousands of people, including actress Kirstie Alley and singer Isaac Hayes, came to Paris on Monday to protest the French government's attitude toward the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology.
The protesters, from countries all over the world, gathered in the city center but organizers said they were not given official clearance to march. The crowds soon dispersed, many heading to the Bois de Vincennes, outside the city center, for a day of speeches and concerts.
The Church of Scientology has long had a contentious relationship with France and figures on a list of 178 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activities. The Church is seeking recognition as a legitimate religion in Europe.
"It's bad enough that the government has acted against religious minorities," said Rev. John Carmichael, of the Church's international human rights and interfaith office in New York. "Now they are trying to prevent us from being heard. But we will not be silenced," he added.
"I represent Scientology and other minority religious which aren't really such a minority," actress Alley said. "Our freedom of thought is under siege. We have to ensure the legal, moral religious rights of this great country that is invaluable to the artists of the world," She said.
Hayes also said he came to express his support and solidarity with those being oppressed.
"If it's religion today, what will it be tomorrow?" he said. "I say to France: Practice what you preach and live up to your constitution. You've been there and you know what it's like. Be honest. Be real."
The leaders of the march signed a declaration saying they would do everything in their power to stop "the abuse against French citizens and to restore their fundamental and constitutional rights."
Many Europeans have been skeptical of Scientology, whose prominent members include Tom Cruise, John Travolta as well as Alley.
Founded in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the organization teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.
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