With residents of a Berlin neighborhood deeply unhappy about the opening of a new Scientology center, city officials have found a creative way of limiting the church’s activity. Because Scientology is considered a business and not a church in Germany, it falls under the country’s rigid Sunday closing law.
Riled by the presence of their newest neighbor, community officials in western Berlin’s Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district are doing all they can to make life difficult for the Church of Scientology, Inc.
Earlier this month, the Scientologists opened a 4,000 square meter (43,000 square feet) center in the upscale neighborhood of Charlottenburg, where it hopes to recruit new members to the teachings of deceased science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
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The Church of Scientology has long struggled to gain a foothold in Germany. In 1995, the German Federal Labor Court ruled that Scientology is “neither a religion nor an ideology.” In the eyes of the Germans, it’s just a business, no different than other American imports like Wal-Mart or McDonalds. The organization has also long been under the observation of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, because of its aggressive recruitment practices.
Complaints from concerned Charlottenburg residents began pouring into the municipal government before the center even opened its doors and officials have sent out the message that Scientology is “not welcome” here.
However, Scientologists will be free in Berlin to stop passers-by on the street and speak to them — unlike in Hamburg, where the city district where the Hamburg Scientology center is located has banned such activities.
According to the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, a Berlin city official said at a neighborhood meeting on Wednesday that the city had reviewed existing laws and determined there was nothing they could do to prevent the center’s marketing activities.
“In our view, this is a business activity,” Marc Schulte, the city district’s economic advisor, told the paper.
But this also means that business restrictions apply to Scientology, including the federal law banning sales on Sunday. Any normal church is free to sell postcards, books or any other educational or fundraising goods on that day, but the Church of Scientology will be banned from offering courses or selling any goods on Sundays. City officials have said they will strictly observe the Scientologists to make sure they follow the rule of law.