Germany paved the way yesterday for a ban on the Church of Scientology, with federal and regional ministers declaring that the US-based organisation contravened the constitution and posed a danger to democratic order.
In a sharp escalation of a decade-long row, German officials asked the domestic intelligence agency to gather evidence that could be used in support of a legal move to secure a ban.
Scientology: Religion or racket?
“Scientology works on the basis of massive repression, like a totalitarian organisation which wants to break the will of the people, which is precisely why we have to fight it,” Ralf Stegner, interior minister of Schleswig-Holstein, said after yesterday’s meeting.
Scientology arrived in Germany in 1970 and is thought to have about 6,000 members in the country. Its leaders say that the organisation is a religion, but German officials insist it is a totalitarian commercial sect that seeks to crush individuality.
The issue has created tensions between the US state department, which has accused Germany of violating human rights by monitoring the organisation, and German interior ministers, who always include Scientology in their annual report on extremism. The tensions came to a head in January with the opening of new European Scientology headquarters in Berlin.
Sabine Weber, president of the Church of Scientology in Berlin, said yesterday that the centre had helped win acceptance for the organisation.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted atWhat judges have to say about Scientology
“It is very, very clear that the true picture of what Scientology is about is pushing its way through,” she said. “The interior ministers are obviously reacting to that. If they wait too long the established church fears its opposition and prejudices against us will finally disappear.”
Many believe that the roots of the German determination to expose Scientology lie in the country’s past, with widespread scepticism and fear of anything regarded as an ideological movement.
This year the makers of a film about an anti-Hitler plot, produced by and starring Tom Cruise – one of the most high-profile Scientologists – were initially refused access to military sites in Germany for filming. The government did not say that Scientology was the reason, but it was implicit in the expressions of disapproval by individual ministers. The ban was later lifted.
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