Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Should Germany ban Scientology?

Readers who know Germany better than I do will not need to be reminded that Hamburg is a city-state and has its own Minister for the Interior. Nor will they need to be informed that Hamburg's interior minister is Udo Nagel.

Some of us lesser mortals have become acquainted with Nagel's name following the story that he is seeking a nationwide ban against Scientology, on the grounds that this cult is an "unconstitutional big business":,1518,521262,00.htmlAs I am not an expert on the German constitution, I will ignore that aspect of this story but here is the rest of it, with my comments in brackets: German officials consider Scientology a business, not a religion, and tax it accordingly. Scientologists, naturally, complain about this as 'religious discrimination'. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) apparently ruled that Scientology is a religion (though it is not clear to me what competence the ECHR has in matters of religion nor am I sure whether the ECHR considered the fact that there can be religions which are big business - probably the best other examples are the Roman Catholic Church, the Moonies and the Hare Krishna). Scientologists enjoy the same freedom as any other business in Germany. Berlin has a Scientology Center, and the famous Scientologist Tom Cruise came to Berlin this year to film a big-budget Hollywood film -- even, after some debate, in restricted Nazi-era buildings. Anyway, Nagel's argument is that Scientology is not only a commercial enterprise but also an "anti-constitutional" group with "aggressively fierce" tactics. The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution has watched the group for years because of its recruitment practices. The German government worries that Scientology, as a foreign organization, wants to win over adherents and influence German politics. "There is substantial evidence that the Scientology organization is involved in activities directed against the free democratic order," the agency has written in official reports. Nagel hinted at his new campaign last summer, when he said that Scientology aimed at nothing less than the "complete repression of the individual." But a single German state can't push through a ban. So Nagel is taking his case to colleagues in other states with the idea of forging a nationwide prohibition.

This is an interesting line for an Interior Minister to take. My own instincts are for religious and business freedom. However, Scientology is a special case in that it seems to use, as the German point of view quoted above indicates, psychological techniques to repress individuals. The question that remains is whether, in a free society, individuals should not be free to belong to groups that repress their "normal" members (apparently, they treat their "star" members as royalty, instead). The only problem with my libertarian view is that once someone has become a Scientologist, it is extremely difficult to get out - and even those who get out find themselves having suffered, and continuing to suffer, physical, mental and emotional harm (at least, that is the claim made by ex-Scientologists).

In any case, it might be argued, from a national security point of view, all that matters whether individuals, repressed or otherwise, pose a real security threat. With Islamic Jehadists, the answer is clear. With Scientology (though I dislike it intensely), I have to say that the answer is not at all clear. So far as I know, no Scientologist has attempted by any violent means to attack any nation state.

I conclude that Minister Nagel is going down the wrong track. There may be very good grounds in German law to proceed against Scientology (and certainly no one should look on Scientology with anything but contempt), but national security has, so far, not (to public knowledge) been a matter of any substantial concern in relation to Scientology.

Scientology is considered, in Germany, a profit-oriented "psycho-group" or "commercial cult" with totalitarian internal structures and undemocratic goals - specifically, one that it is "striving for world power". A German national commission established in 1996 to investigate "so-called sects and psycho-groups" including Scientology, concluded in its report that such groups did not at present pose a threat to society and state, and underlined the constitutional principle of religious freedom as well as the state's obligation to observe strict neutrality in these matters. However, it called upon the Government to introduce legislation for consumer protection in the "psycho-market" and highlighted the need for the Government to inform the public about dangers to health and property posed by psycho-cults and groups. Particular emphasis was placed on Scientology because it allegedly pursues policies of "misinformation" and "intimidation of its critics", according to the report. Scientology has been described as "an unscrupulous commercial enterprise that harasses its critics and abuses the trust of its members".

The way to deal with Scientology is through consumer education and the same kind of appropriate legal action which one takes against other "unscrupulous commercial enterprises" when they are discovered doing something for which they can be taken to court.

Herr Nagel's approach may appeal to some individuals and officials in Germany but it is almost certainly not the right approach. Sphere: Related Content

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