BRUSSELS, Sept 18 (Reuters) – The California-based Church of Scientology opened an office in Brussels on Thursday to campaign against what it sees as discrimination against it and other “new religions” in some European Union states.
From its European Office on Public Affairs and Human Rights, Scientology said it would campaign for human rights and make itself better known in Europe.
Scientology has attracted negative publicity in Europe due to several court cases involving members in recent years. Some EU states consider it an unwelcome sect and refuse to register it as a religion.
“The only thing we ask is that we are not discriminated against,” Kurt Weiland, who is responsible for government, legal and public affairs for Scientology, told a news conference.
“There is discrimination, a lot of it…We are going to work with the appropriate EU institutions to bring about a change.
Scientology, which counts Hollywood stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise among its 8.5 million members, pledged to triple its 169 charitable activities in Europe within three years.
The church, which says it has two million followers in Europe, was founded on the teaching of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954.
Its members seek to solve personal problems and reach a state of enlightenment through fee-paying analysis sessions with so-called auditors.
Baroness Sarah Ludford, spokesperson for civil liberties for the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said EU institutions should not be used to force the hand of individual member states on the recognition of religious organisations. “While this move is a surprise tribute to the EU’s growing human rights policy, we should be wary of the EU being misused to evade anti-cult bans,” Ludford told Reuters.
Weiland cited France, Germany and Belgium as countries where Scientology members said they had faced heavy discrimination.
In Germany, Scientology members are banned from government jobs in some parts of the country because officials think the group masquerades as a religion to earn money.
France, which has taken a hard line against sects after the death of 16 Solar Temple members in 1995, refuses to recognise Scientology as a traditional church.
The French branch of Scientology was fined 8,000 euros ($9,030) for violating privacy laws by keeping the details of former members on its database. Local Scientology officials were convicted for fraud in Lyon in 1997 and Marseille in 1999.