German administrative court upholds government’s right to observe Church of Scientology

BERLIN: A German administrative court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s ruling allowing the nation’s domestic intelligence services to monitor activities of the German branch of the Church of Scientology.

The North Rhine-Westphalia Higher Administrative Court in Muenster said there was sufficient information to permit intelligence agencies to keep the organization under observation.

“There are concrete indications that the plaintiff (Scientology), as well as its members maintain ambitions against the free, democratic basic order,” the court said in a statement.

The court said, however, that it “specifically left open whether Scientology is considered a religious organization,” saying that the issue had no bearing on the ruling.

Sabine Weber, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in Germany said that the group would appeal.

“We will certainly go to the Federal Administrative Court,” Weber, who is based in Berlin, told The Associated Press by telephone after the verdict was announced.

“We are confident that the church will ultimately prevail as it has already won two final judgments in Germany on this very issue,” Karin Pouw, the public affairs director for the Los Angeles, California-based Church of Scientology International, said in a statement e-mailed to the AP. “Despite over 10 years of intrusive investigation and harassment of Scientologists, not one shred of evidence has been uncovered to justify this politically motivated investigation.”

In March of 2003, the church took the German authorities to court in an attempt to prevent any further observation. The church argued “Scientology was a religious community and pursued no anti-constitutional ambitions,” Tuesday’s court ruling said.

In November 2004, a Cologne court upheld the government’s right to continue surveillance.

“There are concrete indications that Scientology’s activities are to implement Scientology’s program in Germany and to expand more and more Scientology’s principles in government, economy and society,” the appeals court said in its decision Thursday, noting a special focus on Berlin.

The church has long battled to end the surveillance, saying it is an abuse of freedom of religion. Church officials point to several lower court rulings in favor of their right to practice in Germany as a religious organization.

The U.S. State Department regularly criticizes Germany in its annual Human Rights Report for the monitoring practice.

Germany’s top security officials reiterated in December they consider Scientology to be in conflict with the principles of the nation’s constitution and requested that state officials begin gathering information to consider whether they have sufficient grounds to seek a ban on the organization.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday February 12, 2008.
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