Joke petition garners thousands of signatures

Jasleen Shokar

A petition to President Barack Obama to replace the Church of Scientology on Guadalupe with a HEB has gone viral on social media.

Electrical and computer engineering freshman Abhishek Deb started the petition for a government class. 

“The assignment was to create a petition that got at least 20 signatures, and write two paragraphs about it for class,” Deb said. “I didn’t expect it to go viral and get this many signatures.”

Deb said the petition was designed to be satirical and didn’t have any real intention of trying to replace the Church of Scientology with a HEB.

“The petition addresses Barack Obama, who does not have any power in the issue,” Deb said. “It seems like common sense to me you can’t just uproot establishments like that.”

Computer science and linguistics freshman Simon Zeng says it is easy to relate to the sentiments of the petition, which address the “large, mysterious, imposing Scientology building so close to campus and the struggle of having to add a 30-minute round trip bus every time you want to go grocery shopping,” which is why it is so popular. 

“I think the way the petition presents itself just adds to the mystique of the content that is essential in its viral spread,” Zeng said. “It’s not a good petition per se, it’s just good viral content and that’s what counts.”

Deb said that he originally had no intention of following through with the petition’s demands.

“I’ll look into other means, but as of right now I don’t have any real goal with this other than just completing my assignment.”

Deb said he didn’t intend to offend anyone, and he did not expect his class assignment to become so public.

“It’s a joke. I think its hate speech too, frankly,” Cathy Norman, director of special affairs for the Church of Scientology of Austin, said. “It’s not something you do by petition. The United States Government can’t cause the Church of Scientology to move, or HEB to open a store. But it’s just a joke, just not in very good taste.”

Norman said the Church of Scientology isn’t moving anywhere and has owned the property since 1979.

“Like many of the other churches and religious organizations in this area, we have some people who are part of the UT community and some who are not,” Norman said. “We love this neighborhood, and we love the UT environment.”