2.1  The Controversy over Sects
         2.1.1  The Wave of New Religious Movements
         2.1.2  Reactions by Private Individuals
         2.1.3  Reactions by the Authorities

    2.2  Sects in Switzerland: Presence and Reactions
         2.2.1  Quantitative Evaluation
         2.2.2  Standpoint of the Authorities

NOT an official translation:
Direct questions to

SCIENTOLOGY[1] in Switzerland

Summary of the report by the State Security Advisory Commission

In the course of the past several years the Swiss and the international communities have been shattered by several events which involved groups categorized as sects (the conflagration of Waco, Texas; the Sun Temple Order [Switzerland, France and Canada]; the murders using Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway).

These events raise questions about the protection of individual, material and psychic interests.

For this reason the State Security Advisory Commission (KSK) has decided to become more involved with this theme. At the center point is the question of not only to what extent do certain movements effect social problems, but also could they endanger the security of the state and its citizens. Non-violent activities could also effect an actual or potential danger for the security of the state. This work group's need for clarification particularly applied to Scientology because of certain of their practices and because of accusations which have been made against them.

The mission of the work group is:

This report, for the most part, has relied on public sources. No special police investigations were undertaken. At the end of 1997, the interested parties received a proposed report for comment.

In regards to Scientology the report comes to the following conclusions:

As far as sects in general are concerned, the work group came to the following realizations:

Therefore, the work group comes to the following conclusions:

1. Mission and Statement of Work

In the course of the last few years the Swiss and the international communities have been shattered by several events which involved groups categorized as sects. In April, 1993, the end of David Koresh and several dozen of the "Branch Davidian" adherents was brought to us live on television in a conflagration from Waco, Texas. In October 1994, the "transit" of the Solar Temple order showed the fanatic determination of a small group to make painstaking preparations for their own death and to sweep several adherents along with them as well as to eliminate "traitors; the ideological conviction was so strong that in December, 1995 and in March, 1997, more adherents felt compelled to follow the path which had been marked out in advance for them. In March, 1995, the assassinations carried out by adherents of the Aum Shinrikyo with sarin gas in the subway of Tokyo showed the deviation of a sect whose leader had planned terroristic actions for a "takeover of power."

These events, which were widely and effectively presented in the media, raise questions about the protection of individual, material and psychic interests. A siege such as the one in Waco is hardly conceivable under conditions in Switzerland. However, murder along with mass suicide such as the ones by the Solar Temple in the villages of Wallis and Freiburg had also appeared highly improbable.

The authorities have taken this new kind of problem into account because the above-mentioned affairs have resulted in criticism and reproaches towards politicians and police[2].

It certainly must be pointed out here that the possibilities for effective prevention are limited. The legal foundations which would justify a potential surveillance of a religious group are lacking; the hands of the federal authorities are, to a large extent, tied. Even if that were not the case, there would still be an extremely touchy situation of determining which category could be causing the actual problem. On one side it is practically certain that the authorities would not have concerned with themselves with a group like the Solar Templists before the events of October, 1994. On the other side, the protection of minorities offers an exacting test in each individual case in order to do justice to the majority of the movements. No one group should be able to be excused from the applicable law solely on the convocation of their real or presumed religious nature.

For these reasons the State Security Advisory Commission (KSK) decided to get involved to a greater degree with the thema. The first exchange of views occurred at a meeting on April 17, 1996. The focal point was the issue of to what degree certain movements not only caused social problems, but could also endanger the security of the state and its citizens. Narratives available from freely accessible sources in Switzerland had never related cases of violent or subversive activities. However, other (nonviolent) activities could also pose a real or potential danger for the security of the state. There was a particular need for explanation in regard to the Scientology Church; this because of certain of their fundamentals and their practices observed in the past, and in consideration of charges brought against them by other countries. For this reason the KSK had established a work group [3] which was to examine the issue closely insofar as Scientology could pose a danger to the security of Switzerland.

The mission of the work group is as follows:

This report is based for the most part upon public sources (in particular academic documents) as well as contact with the federal police domestically and foreign. In the course of this report, no special police investigation was conducted. The internal and public publications of Scientology are considerable in volume [4]. In addition, the movement is the subject of innumerable academic publications and/or criticism of varying quality. The subject of Scientology is also energetically debated on the internet; beside polemic texts are useful documents (judgments, official reports from certain countries, etc.). A preliminary hearing from representatives or critics of Scientology was avoided. The parties concerned received a proposed report for comment at the end of 1997. The suggestions which were made were taken into consideration in this report as far as practicable and possible.

2. Focus on Sects[5]

The presence of groups which claim title to philosophies and religious convictions other than those of the popular majority is nothing new. In Switzerland and other western countries however, these sects were mainly Christian in nature up until the twentieth century. Although these were differentiated in certain points from the reigning churches and their presence occasionally gave rise to violent reactions[6], they nonetheless demonstrated important fundamentals common to the primary denominations. in the 1920's all western nations experienced a significant transformation of the religious landscape. At the time, several mutually influential developments took place:

These developments raise numerous questions concerning the investigation of religious manifestations and exceed the bounds of this report: in the long term they could also have consequences for the identity and the cohesion of a people. New problematic situations are arising for the authorities today from the propagation of religious groups, among them those which affect state security in regards to the presiding security agency. They are caused time and again by people's apprehension of zealous conversion or by the appearance of these groups; besides it is practically unavoidable that of the hundreds of groups, several will be found whose activities turn out to be harmful[8] to individuals or to society. Because of the fundamental of religious freedom which is anchored to our society, involvement with this issue is a delicate matter; however the authorities may nevertheless not disregard it entirely. In any case this issue should not be addressed without consideration for the peculiarities of religious manifestations nor without a sound knowledge of religious minority groups.

2.1 The Controversy over Sects

2.1.1 The Wave of New Religious Movements

The multiplicity of the new religious movements since the 1960's is all the more remarkable in that its attraction, in the beginning, was to young people[9]. Among them were those who had completed a university education, which did not fit in with the popular conception of what made a person into a "sect adherent." These developments could not be separated from the stream of protest demonstrations which the youth of the western countries had grasped, but they are not reduced to those since the majority of these groups survived and others, in spite of the intervening socio-economic developments, joined later on. The formative new religious movements fell back on different ideologic and cultural sources - oriental gurus as well as heralds who preached a biblical radicalism (Jesus People). What is remarkable about these is the effect of change among the spiritual searches, the search for personal development and for psychotherapy; their impetus can also be seen in connection with the new orientations which arose as a result of the youth protest movements of the 1960's[10].

2.1.2 Reactions by Private Individuals

Several of the newly converted young adherents immediately joined these groups, radically altered their lifestyles and sometimes broke off connections with their families. This prompted action against certain movements from the beginning of the 1970's, for example against the Children of God and the Unification Church. In 1972 the first anti-sect group was founded to ally parents of the adherents of the Children of God who desired that their children depart that group[11]. This parents' group rapidly became aware of other movements which had the same complaint as they, and decided that the Children of God were only a symptom of a much greater phenomenon; this led to the establishment of anti-sect organizations, which were interested the entire bandwidth of countless categories[12]. Of course efforts had been made for some time by Christianity to defend itself against sects, as well as by associations which, animated by this spirit, brought about general resistance to sects[13]; the new elements in the anti-sect alliances of the 1970's were that these movements were taking much more responsibility for social rather than religious problems, and the assessment that entrance into the numerous controversial new religious movements was the result of manipulation and coercion. These alliances concluded from this that it would be more important to concern themselves with practices than it would religious beliefs of the movements, and restricted themselves, as a result, not only to the groups defined as "sects" by the churches, but also to anything religious which appeared "cult-like," including certain groups within the predominant churches[14].

Since the 1970's anti-sect associations have also been established outside the United States: in France, at the end of 1974 in Rennes, the Association for the Protection of Families and of Individuals (Association pour la défense des familles et de l'individu (ADFI)); in Germany, 1975 in Munich, the Parents' Initiative for Rescue from Mental Dependency and Religious Extremism, reg.; these kind of groups did not appear in Switzerland until the 1980's[15]. The manifestations of new religious movements which were encroaching upon nations led to an international reaction, although the coordination between the various local initiatives were, for the most part, limited to the exchange of information, and the viewpoints of the anti-sect associations were not always identical and often varied from country to country.

2.1.3 Reactions by the Authorities

The activities of the anti-sect associations could have remained the same as those of the small family lobbies which operate because of an understandable concern, and which distribute warnings which are more or less readily passed on by the media and which were being further distributed by churches in accordance with their own interests. In several countries, there were even official investigations into certain groups (Scientology in particular, as we shall later see), but these efforts remain relatively isolated.

However, one event delivered a convincing argument in favor of supporters of incisive politics: the death of several hundred people in Jonestown, Guyana in November, 1978; it was a combination of suicide and murder on the part of an American group of the Peoples Temple. Although the Peoples Templists had a completely different style than the controversial new religious movements, and although the philosophy of its leading chief, Jim Jones, was more Marxism than it was a classic religious view, that event served as the proof for the potential danger which exuded from certain groups and it left an impression which could be recollected. Just recently the events in connection with the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland and Quebec (1994), afterward in France (1995) and again in Quebec (1997), with the Aum Shinrikyo in Japan (1995) and with Heaven's Gate in the United States (1997) have contributed to an increased interest in sects in general. The authorities are faced with a dilemma: a rash intervention at the urging of the public is associated with the risk of imprecision and an infringement of religious freedom. If a new drama should emerge, however, then passivity would give rise to strong criticism on the part of the media and of public opinion and would attract accusations of negligence and irresponsible conduct.

On this account, numerous national and international institutions have concerned themselves with the problems associated with sects during the 1980's and 1990's, and these developments will surely persevere.

In 1984 and in 1997, the European Parliament addressed resolutions about sect questions. In 1992, the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council expressed a "recommendation referring to sects and the new religious movements." In France in 1983 a member of Parliament prepared a report which was delivered to the Premier Minister, and in 1995 a parliamentary investigative commission presented a report in turn; while the document from 1983 had no real effect, the one from 1995 led to the creation, in 1996, of an observation center for sects at the ministry level. In Belgium, in the 1996 session, a parliamentary committee produced a report on sects (published in 1997). As a result, in April, 1998, a law led to the creation of an information and coordination center on dangerous sects. In Germany in 1996, the German Parliament established an investigative commission in respect to sects and psycho-groups, and received its final conclusions in June 1998[16]. On other lines, one can determine the reactions in the former communist countries which now find themselves abruptly confronted with the arrival of religious convictions after years of repressive politics[17].

2.2 Sects in Switzerland: Presence and Reactions

2.2.1 Quantitative Evaluation

A comparison between Switzerland and other European countries shows that our country, because of its central location and the presence of diverse language groups (without debating the international situation, in particular that of a city such as Geneva) is not widely representative of the situation on the entire continent[18]. Several regions of the country, which have (in part, long-term) deep-rooted Christian minorities, have become home to branches of most of the new religious movements, including the controversial[19]. Nevertheless, they do not comprise a very important percentage of the popular groups. The results of the 1990 census show that besides the Protestants, Roman Catholics, Christian Catholics, Orthodox, the Jews, and the Mohammedans, more than 58,000 adherents of "other Christian denominations," nearly 30,000 adherents of "other religious communities," and - besides the people who are not members of a religion - there are more than 100,000 who do not respond to that question. Although several people who are designated Catholics or Protestants could also simultaneously belong to other religious groups, only a small percentage of the population, probably less than 2%[20], have formally declared their membership in a belief other than those of the "large religions." This small fraction of the population is further divided into at least 200 to 300 various religious groups[21].

The most significant are the movements of the Christian persuasion which are not part of the large churches[22], with which we are not concerned here. Although some of these groups have entered the controversy in the last few years, they are already part of our religious landscape. As concerns the non-Christian new religious movements, whether they are imported from abroad or are a contemporary discovery, it is seldom that these have more than 1,000 members in Switzerland; actually one can confirm less markedly the increasing number of members as much as a consistent increase in the groups represented (a multiplicity which contributes to the idea that the number of existing groups has not levelled off). The new religious groups encompass an extraordinary number of movements: there are very few common characteristics between a disciple of an Indian guru and a member of a new Japanese religion or an adherent of a bearer of extraterrestrial tidings. Therefore, hasty generalizations are not appropriate.

2.2.2 Standpoint of the Authorities

The federal authorities have, up to this time, taken a restrained standpoint on these issues, and have had to express themselves only seldom. In March, 1989, the Federal Council answered a simple inquiry from the Geneva National Council of Gilles Petitpierre in regards to "people's being taken in by the sects and the attacks on personal freedom," and emphasized that religious communities and sects may claim the same freedoms as any other group and are also subject to proscribed law; it also pointed out several possibilities of how misuse could eventually be opposed, mentioning at the same time, "any surveillance, any restriction, no matter how intensive this may be, would still not be able to prevent certain tragic errors." Besides that, the Federal Council took the view that "the preferred area of operation for this field would be individual initiatives or initiatives by the state churches." In June, 1998, the Federal Council responded to a petition concerning the sect battle which was signed by Wallis National Council member Thomas Burgener and 50 others. In it the issue was posed in connection with the current religious pluralism. It its answer, the Federal Council saw no necessity for special measures and recalled that in our government, religious situations are the responsibility of the cantons. It urged academic research in order to gain a better perception of the topic at hand. For its part, the Federal Court is to decide individual issues in connection with religious minority groups[23].

During the course of past years, there have been various initiatives at the canton level. In 1992, the publication of a book, which concerned itself particularly with sects and which had been produced on commission and with the financial support of the Zurich Canton school management[24], brought on an aggressive dispute and complaints from several groups. In 1996, on the initiative of the Geneva Canton State Council and in the wake of the second massacre of the Solar Templists in December 1995 in Vercors, a work group comprised of legal professionals was called together to discuss sects in life and take testimony. Their report was published in February, 1997[25]; in it they determined that these issues contained gaps in information, and they gave special recommendations in the areas of child protection, administrative law, tax problems and criminal investigation - this in the sense of a better application of the existing legal provisions and an intensification of several of these provisions. In June of 1998, the State Council of the Canton of Geneva released to the Great Council two legislative proposals and a suggestion for a standing initiative. The intent of all three projects was to increase the alternatives in the struggle against cult growth ("dérives sectaires")[26]. In 1997 a work group from the cantons of Romandie (together with the cantons of Tessin and Berne) began work on cult growth. By June of 1998, an information center for religious issues had been established for western Switzerland. Besides that, several cantons have addressed the phenomenon not in general, but on the occasion of local disputes with certain groups.

Finally, it should be noted that several situations in connection with certain groups have gained attention nationwide. The following are cited as a representative, non-comprehensive sample:

These examples illustrate the abundance of actual problems which have arisen in recent years in connection with the activities of various groups designated as "sects," while also showing their complexity. Where do the legitimate reactions of society to extremist positions end, and where do intolerance and inquisitional measures begin? There is probably no absolute answer to these questions, and it is preferable to answer them on a case by case basis, aware of the fact that they probably will be asked more frequently in upcoming years. It is also advisable to appraise the consequences in each case. Experience shows that political officials and the major portion of the media do not possess precise knowledge about the reality of the manifold phenomenon of sects. This is not meant as a reproach to them, since they are dealing with very small groups, which, with few exceptions, would not completely pass examination.

The deficiency of information is apparent, yet it does not justify the adoption of a militant demeanor without critical review. In the total context, individual cases need to be explained.


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  1. In this report the terms "Scientology" will be used to mean the "Scientology Church" and "Scientologie" to mean the "teachings of Scientology. return
  2. See Norbert Reinke, "Hat die Politik versagt? Der Sekten- und Psychomarkt als Gegenstand politischer Sensibilität und staatlichen Handelns", in Politische Studien, Nr. 346, März-April 1996, S. 77-85. return
  3. Members: Urs von Daeniken, Chief of the Federal Police (Chairman); Laurent Walpen, Canton Police Commandant, Geneva; Jean-François Mayer, Expert, upon whom the bulk of the research and editing was incumbent. return
  4. The work group has, as much as possible, only reproduced quotations from documents which it could consult on a personal basis, and has avoided second hand quotations. It is important to recognize the connection between cited paragraphs in order to avoid tendentious quotations. A position is not being defended here; instead, as many facts as possible are being brought to light. return
  5. See James A. Beckford, Cult Controversies: The Societal Response to the New Religious Movements, London / New York, Tavistock, 1985. return
  6. As, for example, the persecution of the Anabaptists since their appearance in the 16th century or, more currently, the provocations in certain regions in regards to the activities of the Salvation Army. The type of argument which was used in the 1880's against the Salvation Army in the field has remarkable similarities with the polemics of the last 25 years surrounding the new religious groups, which intimates the occurrence of latent schemes of interpretation in the reactions against minorities (see J.-F. Mayer, Une honteuse exploitation des esprits et des porte-monnaie? Les polémiques contre l'Armée du Salut en Suisse en 1883 et leurs étranges similitudes avec les arguments utilisés aujourd'hui contre les "nouvelles sectes", Freiburg, Les Trois Nornes, 1985). return
  7. See Georg Schmid, Im Dschungel der neuen Religiosität, Stuttgart, Kreuz Verlag, 1992. return
  8. Religion is an area in which the most high-minded human aspirations are found, but which contains all the elements needed to become the operating ground of charlatans: because of the trust which people give to him, the religious leader has access to the most intimate areas of the faithful; the provided divine sanctions lend the religious leader a power which he can use on different paths only with difficulty; the religious assertions need no "proof" and therefore do not succumb to control; a believer is often ready to show financial generosity to the belief which he shares; except for the organized religions, the herald of a religious denomination is not obligated to obtain an appropriate education (John R. Hall, Gone from the Promised Land. Jonestown in American Cultural History, New Brunswick [New Jersey] / London, Transaction, 1987, S. 33-34). return
  9. This brings up the concept of the youth religions, which have spread since 1974 in the works of the Lutheran Minister Friedrich-Wilhelm Haack; today this concept apparently not encompass the current reality and is gradually falling into disuse. return
  10. "In the movement of May, 1968, and in the ensuing protest movements, political activity was directed not only to the problems in connection with the economic situation and the relationship between the classes, but also to the habits and attitudes. [...] in view of the failure their political dimensions are placed in question, whereby the interests in the individual subjectivity grew. The development of the movement of human potential (which suggested "therapies for normal people") found their origins here. The political dimension follows the intention of reaching complete personal development, because from the individual liberation of each person arises collective happiness." (Françoise Champion, " Nouveaux mouvements religieux et nouvelles religiosités mystiques-ésotériques", in Cahiers français, Nr. 273, Okt.-Dez. 1995, S. 13-18 [S. 14]). return
  11. The original name of this group, which was founded in San Diego, was "The Parents' Committee to Free Our Sons and Daughters From the Children of God Organization". return
  12. For the origins of these movements, see Anson D. Shupe und David G. Bromley, The New Vigilantes. Deprogrammers, Anti-Cultists, and the New Religions, Beverly Hills / London, Sage, 1980; Anson D. Shupe, David G. Bromley und Donna L. Oliver, The Anti-Cult Movement in America. A Bibliography and Survey, New York / London, Garland, 1984; David G. Bromley und Anson D. Shupe, "Anti-cultism in the United States: Origins, Ideology and Organizational Development", in Social Compass, 42/2, Juni 1995, pp. 221-236. return
  13. Christian alliances against sects are still active and work more or less closely with anti-sect alliances which are religiously neutral or which are differentiated from them in several points; the intended goal was not the same in spite of frequently common "opponents" (see Massimo Introvigne, "L'évolution du `mouvement contre les sectes' chrétien, 1978-1993", in Social Compass, 42/2, Juni 1995, S. 237-247). return
  14. That is how polemics about charismatic Catholic groups developed in France in 1996, who were accused of being sect-like church annexes. Motivations of movements such as Opus Dei have been frequently questioned by anti-sect alliances for several years. return
  15. In Western Switzerland 1983, in German Switzerland 1987. return
  16. See the discourse on the situation in Germany in connection with chapter 4 of this report. return
  17. After the fall of the Berlin wall, numerous groups began to send their missions into the Eastern Block countries (where, prior to 1989, only a few carried out cautious, difficult operations). This opened up new horizons for conversion, so that movements which had trouble recruiting in Western countries had the advantage there. return
  18. See M. Introvigne und J.-F. Mayer (Hrsg.), L'Europa delle nuove religioni, Torino, Editrice Elle Di Ci, 1993. return
  19. See J.-F. Mayer , Les Nouvelles Voies spirituelles. Enquête sur la religiosité parallèle en Suisse, Lausanne, L'Age d'Homme, 1993. return
  20. Sociological research confirmed as well the pluralism of religious beliefs in today's Switzerland (see Roland J. Campiche und and., Croire en Suisse(s), Lausanne, L'Age d'Homme, 1992), along with the small percentage of membership in other religious movements in relationship to the total population (Roger Berthouzoz, "Religions et croyances", in Anna Melich [Hrsg.], Les Valeurs des Suisses, Bern, Peter Lang, pp. 181-242 [pp. 204-208]). return
  21. In perusing the handbook by Oswald Eggenberger, the churches, special groups and religious associations. A handbook, 6th edition, Zurich, Theologischer Verlag, 1994, gives one an overview of the diversity of groups (this book covers the entire German-speaking region, but indicates in each description whether the group is present in Switzerland; to make it complete would require the addition of groups which have appeared since publication and active groups which are described nowhere else but are present exclusively in western Switzerland and in Tessin. return
  22. Among the most represented: the New Apostolic Church (37,000 members in Switzerland), Jehova's Witnesses (nearly 18,500 "prophets" in Switzerland, those are members who regularly visit households or utilize other proselytizing activities), Mormons (approximately 6,000 believers in Switzerland). The Mormons and the New Apostolics have been resident in Switzerland since the 19th century, while the Bible Students (predecessors of the Jehova's Witnesses) set foot here around 1900. return
  23. See Marco Borghi, "L'Etat de droit face aux sectes - Perspectives fondées sur une analyse de la jurisprudence fédérale", in Stefan Bauhofer und and. (Hrsg.), Sekten und Okkultismus: kriminologische Aspekte / Sectes et occultisme: aspects criminologiques, Chur / Zürich, Verlag Rüegger, 1996, S. 51-81. return
  24. Jacques Vontobel und and., Das Paradies kann warten: Gruppierungen mit totalitärer Tendenz, Zürich, Werd, 1992. return
  25. Audit sur les dérives sectaires. Rapport du groupe d'experts genevois au Département de Justice et Police et des Transports du Canton de Genève, Genf, Ed. Suzanne Hurter, 1997. return
  26. The first legislative proposal recommended a change to the cantonal criminal code, so that vicitims of sect abuse could receive assistance from representatives of recognized victim aid organizations. The second proposed the regulation of references to religious practices and to the term "church" when commercial goals were being pursued. The suggested standing initiative required commitment into the business register for attainment of legal personhood as an association. return