USA/Europe - Two kinds of religious freedom

"Die Furche," p. 7, Nr. 50, December 11, 2003

Letter to the editor re: The USA and us
Dossier with texts by Manfred Prisching, Nr. 48, pp 21-23.

In the otherwise fantastic analysis of the relationship between Europe and the USA, an important point was unfortunately not mentioned: the basically different concepts of religious freedom. Europeans understand this to be the freedom of the individual to decide on a religion for him or herself. In the USA, however, this is understood as freedom of organizations, who have hung the "religion" sign out front, to do with their members, willing or unwilling, what they want.

Fitting examples include the legislative exceptions made for certain organizations regarding child labor. Or the circumstance that a class-action lawsuit representing 400 young adults sexually abused as children against the Hare Krishna sect (ISKCON) was dismissed in court on grounds that a religion could not be put out of existence. The "Children of God" sect, which even in the late 1980s sent underage girls out as prostitutes to lure in men, was permitted to regularly appear in the White House during Christmas as a choir.

Naturally, the distinction is grounded in history. In Europe, after the Nazi and communist eras, a healthy fear prevailed of totalitarian groups, of the sort which could again come into power. In the USA, however, as the dossier rightly notes, people seem to see the potential oppressor in the legal state itself.

The tragedy is that the USA, as in many other cases, are also playing the part of world police in this area, and plan on forcing their version of religious freedom upon other continents.

Opponents of Acknowledgment Law used mysterious letter from Scientology

November 22, 2003

by Fritz Imhof

After the Acknowledgment Law was passed would Scientology have the possibility of having itself acknowledged by the state? This controversial possibility has been voiced by opponents of the law, which is also supposed to enable public acknowledgment of other churches and denominations and is being put the vote in Zurich Canton. Is the opposition committee a bad joke gone wrong?

Naturally the topic is best suited for polemics and demagoguery. In the event that the law would enable Scientology, which is often called a psychosect and a pseudochurch, to obtain public acknowledgment, probably many people would vote against the law.

The discussion about Scientology started after it was stated at a press conference given by the committee against the church proposition that the organization had allegedly already expressed its appreciation in an open letter to the cantonal council and had stated that it intended to file an application should the law be passed. Juerg Stettler, president of Scientology Church Zurich, however, denied that his organization had written such a letter. He said they were more interested in delineating a clear separation between Church and State.

Church law opponent Andreas Honegger, who cited the letter, responded that he had received this letter from an association by the name of "Freunde von L. Ron Hubbard," and had assumed from the name that he was dealing with Scientology. Hubbard is the Scientology founder. Stettler can imagine that the letter was written by members of Scientology, but not at the organization's behest. "Probably somebody was playing a joke," said Stettler.

"Scientology is far from having any social significance in Zurich Canton." It's not just that the membership hurdle would be too high. "We are of the opinion that with Scientology the religious aspects were just added as an afterthought," said sect expert Georg Schmid. As far as he knows Scientology will never be acknowledged as a church.

Faux pas of a church historian

The controversy of the matter is understandable. Not long ago the renowned German church historian Gerhard Besier, known for his research of Stasi files on the development of the Church with the GDR intelligence service, gave the Scientologists a clean bill of health in a speech for the opening of a new Scientology office in Brussels in Belgium.

The historian said the Scientology church was leading a fight for tolerance for everyone's good, and was struggling for the acceptance of religious diversity, and thereby caused an uproar. Were people like Besier going to help Scientology's acknowledgment as an acceptable church? Is that the way they were going to do it? That's what happened in the USA, where government agencies have repeatedly voiced disapproval of the "discrimination" against Scientology in Europe.

Scientology is well known for using highly controversial methods of interrogation and therapy and, in doing so, for relieving its customers of much money. Georg Schmid, however, estimated that the organization has less than 1,000 members in Switzerland.

Where exactly the letter came from can no longer be determined. The members of the opposing committee say they can no longer find it in their files.

Source: Livenet/ Landbote

Cult mystery book (German language only)
Hugo Stamm describes the mechanisms of a cult in "Tod im Tempel" ("Death in the Temple")

St. Galler Tagblatt
October 13, 2003
Stefan Borkert

After six technical books on the problems of cults, Hugo Stamm has now written a novel. Instead of a sober explanation he relies on the power of persuasion of the people and characters.

Reality: "I did it out of concern for my friend. I wanted to know what they had done with Anne. Her parents had been put under a lot of pressure to give financial aid to a foreign esoteric spiritual center, and from fear of losing their daughter forever, they had cashed in part of their inheritance money. Anne had been so euphoric she had sunk all of her savings into this nebulous project. She was determined to burn all her bridges behind her."

That's the explanation of a young woman whose friend had made contact with the Avatar movement. The word "Avatar" come from the practice of Hindu and can mean the reincarnation of the god of Vishnu into Krishna or Rama. The search for her friend sets the plot for the "Death in the Temple," the first mystery novel by Zurich journalist Hugo Stamm. He builds the story on the problems of cults, which he has studied for 30 years. He estimates that there are around a thousand movements that have cult-like characteristics.

Life as a model

The author didn't have to invent very much to write this story. Stamm was directed in his writing by true life. The friend of a girl who landed in the clutches of a cult desperately seeks her friend. Finally a critic manages to infiltrate the temple as a monk. The Guru Vishnudasa established a temple in which his adherents lived according to rules he set up. The guru shamelessly exploited his following financially, and sexually as well. Anyone seeking to defending themselves were put under pressure to the point of death. The arrest and exposure of the guru did not lead to all his obedient "lambs" leaving the cult, rather they continued to follow their "master" fanatically.

Suspenseful reading

Any concern that Stamm's novel would be an explanatory textbook, that his protagonists would complacently and lifelessly follow the raised index finger of a modern moralist, fortunately has no foundation. Just the opposite. The characters develop themselves. They maintain suspense and are credibly described throughout. Nevertheless the story follows the fictitious line of victory over reality. Therefore cult counselors caution following the example of the book, that of a private individual taking on a cult solo. Stamm is aware of this, and took it into account in writing the book, he says.

Hugo Stamm: Tod im Tempel. Pendo-Verlag, Zurich 2003, Fr. 39.90