Germany on collision course with Scientology
Germany has sought to nurture tolerance as a national characteristic since World War Two, but it doesn’t stretch to the Church of Scientology. A new Forsa poll shows 74 percent of Germans think Scientology should be banned. The survey comes hard on the heels of a declaration from federal and regional ministers that the movement is unconstitutional. That announcement, the culmination of a row with Scientology dating back to the 1970s, opens the way for a possible ban.
Germany is not alone in refusing to recognise the Church of Scientology as a religion, but it goes further than many other countries in its rejection of the body. It see Scientology as a cult masquerading as a church to make money, a view Scientologists reject.
Agents of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a kind of German FBI, are already gathering information on Scientology and a whole chapter is devoted to it in the intelligence agency’s 2006 report. It describes the movement as having a “totalitarian character” because it seeks to exert control over its members. But the agency is not sure the government will be able to get enough evidence to ban it.
Scientology, founded in the 1950s by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has up to about 6,000 members in Germany, according to the intelligence report. It is certainly visible in Berlin. It opened a multi-storey headquarters on one of west Berlin’s main streets this year, drawing protesters with banners saying “Brain washing. No, thanks.” Scientology members, many recognisable by their luminous yellow ties, are often out on Berlin streets stopping passers-by to offer personality tests.
Scientologists, whose ranks include Hollywood stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise, insist Scientology is a religion and deny the movement curtails human rights or is undemocratic.
Although Germans, still dogged by their Nazi past, are extremely wary about any infringement of civil rights, they are also fearful of ideologies or movements that can challenge their post-war democracy. Even though they have allowed Scientology to operate in Germany, they have tried to limit its impact. Sensitivities about the issue were laid bare earlier this year when the Defence Ministry banned Tom Cruise from filming “Valkyrie,” the story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and the attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life, at German military sites. They later lifted the ban.
Critics say Germany can be contradictory when it comes to tolerance. While Germans want to ban Scientology, they still allow far-right parties — including the National Democratic Party (NPD) which comes within a whisker of espousing some Nazi ideas — to operate and sometimes get some public funding.
Do you think Germany should recognise Scientology as a religion? Leave it alone? Or should it actually be less tolerant, towards Scientology and other groups it sees as potential threats to its democracy?