The supreme court declined yesterday to review a decision upholding the warrant used by the FBI to seize numerous documents from the Church of Scientology here during a 10-hour search last July.
The action enables the government to present to a grand jury allegations that covert agents for the church had taken the documenats illegally from voluminous government investigative files.
About two dozen FBI agents raided church offices at 2125 S St. NW on July 8. Using an identically worded warrant, more than 100 other agents simultaneously raided church offices in Los Angeles. There a judge has ordered the return of seized documents, but the government has appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The core issue - particularly sensitive because of constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, expression and association - is whether the warrant was one "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized," in the words of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
In the Washington raid, Chief District Judge William B. Bryant ruled that the warrant violated the amendment because it wa "general" rather than a specific. He termed it a "wild card."
Five months later, in December, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed Bryant. Its unsigned decision said he was "patantly incorrect," partly because his opinion "ignores completely" restrictions put on the search and seizure by an affidavit that accompanied the warrant.
Yesterday, church spokesman Hugh Wilhere contended that First Amendment rights had been violated. He envisioned "Nazi Germany all over again, with wholesale raids on any group that incurs the disfavor of any two-bit bureaucrat."
But Solicitor General Wade h. McCree, in asking the court to let the decision stand, denied that assertion.
"Even assuming that the church is a bona fide religious organization, and there is substantial doubt, the claim is groundless," he said. The church says it has 3 million members in the United States and 1 million abroad.
If the church "is arguing that the business office of a church is insulated from a search for stolen property and related materials authorized by a valid warrant, we know of no authority . . . to support that proposition," he said.