Germany Defends Scientology Probe
Feb. 27, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A German parliamentary commission defended its examination of Scientology and other ``so-called sects and pyscho groups'' Friday, saying Germany's totalitarian history makes it wary of such groups.
Commission members strongly asserted there is total religious freedom in Germany, but insisted that Scientology is not a religion and its methods must be scrutinized because it is the subject of complaints by German citizens.
``We take the concerns of the people very seriously,'' said German parliamentarian Ortrun Schatzle, commission chairwoman.
She said Germany's dictatorial regimes ``left marks and still influence our thinking,'' while America was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Germans, she said, want their government to protect them, while Americans stress government noninteference in their lives.
The study commission was set up by the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, to determine how the government should deal with new religious and ideological groups that have sprung up in Germany in recent years, Schatzle said. The commission is expected to submit a final report to the Bundestag in early summer.
In America, Schatzle said, commission members witnessed two sides of Scientology: ``the sunny pleasant face'' presented by well-known artists _ movie actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise are Scientologists _ and the ``dark side'' in what she said were descriptions by U.S. citizens to the panel of various coercive activities by Scientologists.
Leisa Goodman, Scientology human rights director, said the church does not coerce people to join its ranks. ``The truth is, Scientology helps people overcome barriers in their lives so that they can achieve real happiness,'' she said. ``All objective examinations have supported this.''
The U.S. government has been critical of treatment of Scientologists in Germany, which has created an irritant in U.S.-German relations. While it is recognized as a religion in the United States, Scientology is viewed by the German government as an economic enterprise out to bilk its members.
German Scientologists contend the government's stance has resulted in persecution and job discrimination. Some commission members, in turn, said they had been subjected to harassment because of their work in examining religious and ideological sects.
The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology, founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, says it has 8 million members worldwide and 30,000 in Germany.
A dozen protesters organized by Scientology picketed outside a hotel press conference set up for the commission by the Germany Embassy. ``Learn from America. Religious freedom for all works,'' read one sign.
The group handed out a letter from four Jewish rabbis complaining about its meeting with people it said are anti-Semites.
Commission members _ five members of parliament from various parties and five academic experts on sects _ said they met with a variety of people during the week in Washington, including members of Congress, State Department officials and a board that included a top Scientology official.
Jewish parliamentarian Roland Khon decried suggestions by Scientologists that they suffer the same kind of persecution that Nazis practiced against Jews.
``The comparison of Scientology in the '80s and '90s with the Jews in the '30s and '40s is an insidious and outrageous insult to the victims,'' Khon said. The commission met with Jewish leaders in Washington and accused Scientologists of using German history, ``which is a very heavy burden on all of us,'' to make the United States take a stance against Germany.