PROTESTERS were this weekend planning to demonstrate against a controversial "religion" which has set up a church in York.

The Church of Scientology - which boasts movie stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its followers - has come under fierce attack from a band of opponents who claim its teachings are "sinister" and have pledged to destroy it.

Its Mission of York was set up at Matmer House in Hull Road last month, making it one of 14 Scientology churches in the UK, but campaigners will picket outside the building tomorrow as part of a worldwide offensive against Scientology.

The organisation has already been the target of an online war which saw its website temporarily put out of action and Google bombed', where it became the first result produced by the search engine Google when the words dangerous cult' were entered.

The protestors are remaining anonymous, but a British organiser claims more than 1,000 people will take part in tomorrow's demonstrations in York, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

The Church of Scientology in Britain has played down the online conflict, with spokeswoman Janet Laveau saying: "We don't get into responding to such threats on the internet, particularly anonymous ones.

"Those wishing to find out the Church of Scientology's views have the right to search official Church websites."

Scientology's defenders say its followers join willingly and promote the organisation's success in helping those with criminal records, but its critics have rejected its claims to be a legitimate religion and alleged people are "brainwashed" into joining.

The movement was founded by science fiction writer L.Ron Hubbard, and, according to its website, "brings spiritual enlightenment to man by way of religious practices that advance him to higher states of spiritual ability and understanding, while providing practical solutions to every facet of day-to-day living".

It says its Mission of York offers "life improvement courses, Dianetics stress testing, workshops and counselling", as well as an inventory of books and tapes of lectures by its founder.

North Yorkshire Police said they did not have any specific plans in place for policing tomorrow's protest, but officers would be carrying out their normal patrols in the area.