Separation of Church and State in Europe and America re Scientology

A Sham in our Midst

From: "Die Zeit"
August 23, 1996

The Fight about Scientology:
What Does Religion have to do with the State?

by Robert Leicht

Each should to his own be true, stated the "Old Fritz." In spite of this half generous, half cynical dictum, the Prussian king probably paid very close attention to making sure that religion and the faithful not be at odds with the public order in his state. How do we do that today? Basic Law protects belief, creed and conscience. Does this mean that anybody may do or be party to what he wants so long as this is under the auspices and framework of a self-proclaimed "church"? As long as he appeals to a "religion" which contradicts worldly probabilities in a proper fashion?

The fight about Scientology has shown how precarious our society has become - in regard to the phenomenon of religion as such as well as to this particular "religion." When an official in the US State Department employs criticism in a description of the German handling of Scientology, that brings about a particularly disunited feeling: an inappropriate meddling in our internal affairs, but perhaps not so unjustified after all - or is it?

Certainly, from the world perspective of the apparently public findings of the natural sciences, all religious denominations appear a little unworldly. Who would want to draw the line? Of course, this is not at all the question. Anybody may believe or think what he wants. Anyone may also publicly profess his religion - or religious philosophy. However, as soon as the individual who is driven by his convictions enters the public domain, rules apply. The first one is: if, in a democratic Constitutional state, the protection of religion results from the principles of human dignity and freedom, then no religious practice can be permitted to injure this dignity and welfare. When there are such transgressions of Basic Law, the state will step in.

In the fight with the Scientology sect, the contrasts between the American and German constitutional cultures are highlighted. In fact, out of historical grounds, some things in the United States are different. There, the state may not make any sort of law concerning matters of religion or church. The European countries, on the other hand, had to first gradually free themselves from the aftermath of the medieval investiture struggles, from the dispute about the preeminence of the church and state. From country to country, there are still various traces and remnants of the conflict between church and state. In Germany, they range from the collection of church taxes by the state to the theological faculty at public high schools, from the tendency of the state to protect matters of the church to the dispute over the granting of asylum by the church.

In one point, the trans-Atlantic difference is much less than presented: in all Western countries, the state has won the investiture dispute. It is the state which maintains, protects and regards religious freedom as an important contribution to the community; nowhere does the state lose sight of its liberal order to the appeal to religion or philosophy. The state may not let (so-called) churches violate the freedom of their members, or even impair the freedom of others. Therefore, freedom of religion rules - but when freedom is at stake, religion ceases to be strictly a private matter.

If the Scientology sect, under the pretext of religion and church, commercially exploits its adherents, psychologically subjugates them and practices "brainwashing" [judgment control]; if it endangers the public peace by terrorizing its critics; when it tries to undermine commerce, society and state in the course of its fantasies of conspiratorial omnipotence - the the state and citizens have a Basic Law to protect, including that of the victims - decisively and without guilty conscience.

Religious freedom is also one of the provisions of constitutional law and order. All religious communities practice and administer their affairs on their own - keeping to the letter of the appropriate law. The provision of Article 9 of Basic Law applies to religious communities as well as everybody else: "Associations whose purpose or activity runs counter to criminal law or is directed against constitutional order or against the idea of a nation of people are prohibited."

That is what kind of defense we have against constitutional limitations; it does not matter whether they come from Scientology or from Moslem fundamentalists. The liberal constitutional state does not permit extremists in public service - this includes modern extremists, too. The guideline is, "Tolerant, but not ignorant."

Whenever the Scientology sect rushes in for purely monetary gain, the usual commercial and tax statutes apply - the same as they do for breweries. If, however, the sect uses pressure to exploit its members out of their last dollar for alleged course fees, then this is simply an improper business which - when it comes down to it - is as invalid as profiteering. That which applies to the established churches in matters of tax law also goes for sects: exit from the community must be as free and unhindered as the entrance into it was. Easy in, easy out - what else?

Nobody needs to be in the dark when it comes to the propaganda of the Scientologists and a few of their American advocates and agents. The principles are as clear as the law. Why is there still discernible uncertainty here and there?

A strongly individualistic and materialistic society apparently is helpless in light of the phenomenon that many people feel the indestructible, perhaps only natural need to seek, or even lose, their freedom in connection with "genuine" established religions, with churches, sects, esoteric groups, philosophies, ideologies or in authoritarian associations. The secularization process has apparently enabled us to dissolve traditional connections. However, the necessity for connection [to a group] still remains. The Christian churches have not understood, even in view of their legitimate progress of enlightenment, the maintenance of their profile on the dialectics between belief and intelligence, between obedience and emancipation. Therefore [we have] the current completely obscure new market of possibilities, as well as the apparently unavoidable loss of ability to differentiate between hawkers, shams and honest merchants.

Can an intelligent relationship between freedom and connection be recovered? The limits of empty individualism are becoming steadily more defined. In the meantime, the state can only prevent charlatans and exploiters from openly plying their contempt for humanity.

(c) beim Autor/DIE ZEIT 1996 Nr. 35
All rights reserved.

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