Abb the accuser is still missing self-irony
February 1, 2000
Cabaret perform Bernhard Abb guest in Miltenberg
Miltenberg County. Bernhard Abb's program "Abbgelebt" - rated by the showman himself as a "lyrical Cabaret" - had large parts presented in prose form and sporadically demonstrated magnificent word choice. Anyone who came expecting a romantic poet with a harmonic presentation, though, was disappointed on Saturday: Abb came on in the Old Miltenberg Town Hall as a biting critic.
His theme: the person from birth to death. Abb confronted everything with which the modern person is engaged today: gender conflicts and sexuality, addiction prevention, dealing with the past, dealing with minorities, ideals of beauty, popular music, and the search for a meaning in life. With these - not exactly imaginative but nevertheless real - themes, Abb demonstrated a special disinclination, which turned out to be the Catholic Church. Abb quoted several spots out of the catechism and led the audience to believe that he was actually reading from the fundamentals of the Scientologists. Unfortunately the presentation was somewhat clumsy: namely, Abb suddenly slipped out of his role as satirist and turned very serious.
Among other things, he stated that the Church regarded paying tax to the state and making use of voting rights as a moral obligation. Or that the adherents of the church were obligated to give money according to their own current financial situation, since the Church also had needs. Even if one did regard these problems as principles of Scientology, they are too complex to be criticized without commentary.
This unpretentiousness, which became clear in connection with several themes, was interchanged with acts which strongly challenged the concentration and the intellect of the public - for instance, the grandiose, long poem on guilt and innocence with regard to the Third Reich. The high point of the show for the evening was Abb's last act, in which he played a member of a carnival association giving a eulogy at the graveside of one of his colleagues - that act shone with wit, truth, satire, gifted speech, ideas and showmanship.
Abb effectively engaged his audience. In everything he criticized, though, only one thing was missing: while ruthlessly exposing the mistakes of others, he never laughed about himself - that made him appear somewhat arrogant about the whole matter. He was accompanied by Hans Heinl on the keyboard who saw to a couple of sound effects and played accompaniment for several musical numbers and who, on the whole, unfortunately, came up much too short. Celine Voit.
Law to protect us from sects and psychogroups?
Lashing out in the dark
January 29, 2000 Nuernberger Zeitung
by Raimund Kirch
Warning! We should not talk about sects too quickly. This word has negative connotations and forces harmless religious movements into a certain corner. The Acts of the Apostles tell us, for example, that one day even Paul was charged as a "leader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24, 1 ff.).
And nevertheless, in view of a rapidly growing psychomarket, the public has to keep a watchful eye on all commercial and non-commercial life management institutions. Nowadays anything is possible. There are no more taboos. No borders are respected. Traditions are falling apart.
There is a high risk, since self-proclaimed healers presume to know the one and only true way. Children often suffer the consequences. They, together with their parents, are forced into a spiritual corset and isolated from other children.
Legal measures, such as now are being unanimously demanded by the parties in Parliament may form a psychological barrier. What could be more important is more assistance and counselling. With this as a background, the churches are more in demand as support organizations. They have a wide network of communities and services. But are they equipped to handle the new challenges?
The propensity towards psychogroups and sect arises mostly from a vacuum from a situation of being left alone and from an unsatisfied yearning for healing and salvation. The sensor comes before the censor. We all need a sensorium for this constantly pressing problem.
Caution, rat catchers at work
November 9, 1999
What Scientology's friend Michael Kent said in his presentation in the smoky basement room of a tavern was not just blooming nonsense. It was, above everything else, massive propaganda for the totalitarian system of Scientology and an instigation against our state. The speaker hardly mentioned one good thing about the legal system of a liberal democracy. According to the presentation a la Kent it was crystal clear why Constitutional Security bothered itself with the Scientology network: the rat catchers had to be kept occupied.
Scientology is neither a religion nor a sect. Nor is it only a professional con game. Practicing Scientologists infiltrate the democratic legal state. The goal propagated by Scientology founder Ron Hubbard was "true democracy" with trained people without souls. At the end stands a new totalitarianism. The person mutates into a bio-computer. At the end, only "clears", the conformist non-aberrees, may advance. Only that which serves the system is ethical.
Does Michael Kent, who is presumably trained by Scientology, belong in the semi-secure ward of a hospital for spreading delusory ideas? It is feared that likely as not the man cannot be changed due to having been subjected to brainwashing. But one should continue to listen well and warn people when mental environmental polluters appear on stage to optimize humanity according to Hubbardkind. Scientology leads to dictatorship.
Has the media been informing the public about the Scientology Organization? Anyone who saw how the listeners hang onto every word as Kent spoke would have doubts about that. We still have a long ways to go to an informed society. The Bavarian state government is one of the few, besides individual newspapers and experts, who have recognized the true character of the organization in a timely manner. And continually inform people over the internet about Scientology. My recommendation: call up the page http://www.innenministerium.bayern.de today.
"It seems as though there is nothing prohibited in that"
August 25, 1999
Thueringen sect expert sees no danger in Scientology.
by Frank Kaessner
BM Berlin - Hendrik M. is a murderer. In 1993, along with two other high schoolers from Sondershausen in Thueringen, he murdered a 15 year old fellow student, Sandro Beyer, in a bestial fashion. The youthful perpetrators said they thought of themselves as "children of Satan." Because of the "constant involvement with Satanism," read the court sentence in February 1994, the accused had "lost respect for human dignity." They were released after having served two thirds of their time.
Hendrik M., who had served five of his eight years, has since cleared the books of his sentence. He has gotten into trouble with the law again for incitement. More investigations are in process. "I had thought the matter would turn out differently," social worker Ingo Weidenkaff expressed disappointment with his ward.
37 year old Mr. Weidenkaff is employed with the Thueringen State Work Group for Protection of Children and Youth. In the area of sects, called into being two years ago by the Thueringen Institute for Continuing Education, Education Planning Development and Media, Weidenkaff acts as as chairperson. In committee, he also works with the sect commissioners from the Catholic and Evangelical Churches.
The commissioners may not have enjoyed their morning coffee yesterday. "I am for religious freedom in Germany," announced private citizen Weidenkaff. "I don't see any difference between churches and sects." The 13 or 14 congregations which exist in Thueringen are part of religious public life. That is how the Free State has, for instance, reduced the activities of the controversial Scientology Organization to the distribution of anonymous advertisement letters. "It seems as though there is nothing prohibited in that," said the social worker, innocently. "Whatever is happening elsewhere in Germany, I don't know."
The Bad Berkaer Institute for Continuing Education also responded with incredulousness at such naivete. In the past two years a total of 30 academics have qualified in discussion at the decision of the state administration in a country-wide ad hoc project in sect issues for colleagues, students and parents, reported Christa Herwig, Institute Director. People have not been de-sensitized by the ritual student murder in Sondershausen, she said.
An observation center against dangerous thought
Does a cultural battle over religious freedom loom
between Europe and the United States
June 29, 1999
by Gerhard Besier
The theme's explosiveness is symbolized in that the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe addressed sects when the Kosovo War had barely ended. For years reports of inquiry had been presented by parliamentary committees of various European states, including countries of church-state provisions as different as those of France and Germany. While there is a strict separation of church and state in France, the German Federal Republic holds onto the "limping separation" of 1919. Both European core nations are apparently in agreement in their view of small religious communities. These are categorized as potentially "dangerous."
Similar to the national parliaments, the Council of Europe assembly has also called for a "sects" observation center as the most important provision in the battle "of potentially dangerous currents." In that they have the same set of problems as do the German Parliament and the French National Assembly: the Council of Europe wants to protect the European citizen from something which can not at all be solidly proved to be a "danger."
On the contrary. The experts commissioned by the German Parliament's Enquete Commission to the "so-called sects and psychogroups" came unanimously to the conclusion that no major danger emanated from the suspicious religious categories any more than it did from other religious or other type of groups. Attempts of "mental manipulation" can be proved practically everywhere in modern society. That is found in consumer advertisement as well as in the political or religious fields.
So all Strasbourg did was repeat the scenes from Paris and Bonn. The issues raised were those of abuse, neglect, indoctrination and brainwashing as from illicit enrichment, without substantial proof for the suspected actions having been presented. In any case, reservations by social academicians about the sometimes paper-thin arguments were not reviewed. Not once was it stated what was meant by "sects." As an argument, the correspondent brought up Rumanian socialist Adrian Nastase as an indication that the adherents of suspicious groups had strongly increased in the past few years. Such religious organizations were said to have spread particularly rapidly in central and eastern Europe since the political break-up.
After the presentation of the report on the "illegal activities of sects" by Nastase, numerous representatives protested in the name of Basic Law on freedoms of expression and religion against the classification of unnamed religious groups as "sects." Others said the text did not go far enough. Despite heavy objection, a compromise proposal was finally settled upon which gave precautions against "dangerous sects" the highest priority, but which wants to avoid extensive legislative changes.
Appropriately, there were contradictions within the text of the controversial discussion. For example, EU member states were recommended to establish "independent, national or regional information centers on sects," but they were also supposed to support non-governmental organizations. As a rule, these are not "independent," because they have to do with either former sect members or commissioners of the established major churches. On the other side steps are to be taken to prevent any discrimination or marginalization of suspicious religious groups.
For a long time the United States has being watching with great concern that the understanding of religious freedom was going its separate ways in the USA and Europe. In the period prior to the decision process in Strasbourg, the U.S. congress wrote a letter to the President of the European Parliamentary Assembly, Lord Russel-Johnston and urgently requested that the resolution not be passed. Nastase interpreted this letter and other attempts to expert "pressure" on the parliamentarians.
The core of the conflict may be the European attempt to restrict the wide field of weltanschauung on predominantly political grounds. The more members the large state churches lose and the more the number of religious associations increases, the more unpredictable will be the mental impression upon parts of the population. Naturally such need for control has no place in an open society.
No New Sect Commissioner
From: "Kieler Nachrichten" October 21, 1998
Kiel (US) The state administration's position of sect commissioner will remain vacant for the time being. That is the decision made by the factions yesterday. The previous sect commissioner, Hans Peter Bartels, went to the Federal Parliament as SPD Representative. According to the SPD, the Greens should take over the operation of the sect commissioner, but that the available personnel in the state administration be kept on. The SPD state politician Klaus-Peter Puls suggested that this would best be distributed to the three ministries for families, education and social matters. Green Representatives Matthias Böttcher and Monika Heinold go further yet and say that the complete removal of this assignment has to be investigated. The danger of the Scientology organization, to which the sect position is primarily dedicated, has not yet been proven according to evidence. Things do not appear that way to Puls. The suspension of observation of dangerous sects would comprise negligence. CDU Representative Ursula Röper accused the Greens of being dangerously naive. Schleswig-Holstein, which is the only state which does not have the Scientology organization under surveillance by state security, need not isolate itself further.
The State violates its policy of Neutrality
Why America disapproves of the German "Sect Hysteria"
From: "Focus Nr. 35,"
August 24, 1998, page 58, STANDPUNKT:
von Gerhard Besier
The US Congress is not letting up. In the Capitol in Washington, members of the House are devoting themselves in quick succession to a theme which is unpleasant for Germany: impairment of religious freedom in Europe. The fact that France is being put on derisive display along with Germany is hardly comforting.
In contrast to German newspaper reports, Congress is preparing an unaltered resolution of protest. It accuses Germany of discrimination against religious minorities and would have President Clinton "express the concern of the United States to the German government about state discrimination on religious or denominational grounds."
In connection with that the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad of the US State Department plans an official visit to Germany. The group of protestors in Washington regards itself as constitutional law attorneys to various groups such as Moslems, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, charismatic Christians, Baha'i, Unification Church ("Moon Sect"), Hare Krishna, Universal Life, Association for the Advancement of Human Psychological Perceptions or even the Scientology "Church."
The Americans received a hefty impetus from the results of the Enquete Commission's "So-Called Sects and Psycho-groups" of the German Parliament. Apparently, the Commission even had to state that "no danger for state and society" results from these minorities in its final report in mid-June, 1998 as appeasement. An expert opinion would permit no other significance.
Several days before the publication of the final report, Scientologists, a rabbi and theologians from the USA wrote an open letter to Commission Chairperson Ortrun Schatzle (CDU) to express sharp criticism about the methodology of the Enquete. Internal documents from the Commission which had found their way into their hands, said the Americans, conclusively proved that certain religious minorities were being pushed to the fringes of society. Besides that, they said, the Commission from Bonn had disregarded an elementary principle of state rights - the right of the accused to be able to directly hear and suitably defend themselves against charges brought against them.
Actually, this finding of harmlessness in the Bonn Commission's report clouds a double stupidity. In spite of generally calling off the alarm, it recommends that observation of "sects" be continued by states. The Federal Administrative Office is supposed to collect data, and a new federal foundation is supposed to finance all kinds of investigations. The "sects" persecutors from the officially acknowledged churches may hope for funding from Bonn.
The indications of an undermining of the neutrality of basic law by the state in regard to issues of belief are increasing. Those affected could always have the courts defend them in case of abuse by church sect commissioners. Not infrequently, they gain noticeable partial successes. Will things stay that way? In the German Judicial Academy in Wustrau (Brandenburg), sect commissioners have the opportunity to "educate" judges and state attorneys in their sense of the word...
The social climate follows the hysteria of the political trendsetters. In one "TED" survey on TV channel 3sat, 80 percent of those questioned felt that sects should be banned. Anybody who even appears to come too close to the approximately 600 "sects or psycho-groups - which altogether form about a half percent of the population - is threatened with professional and social ruin. "Sect" members are hardly able to rent a hall for professional purposes or book a radio commercial.
How the slander mechanism works was recently shown by the false denunciation of the Berlin police director, Otto Dreksler, who was accused of being a Scientologist. What would have happened to Dreksler if the Berlin security agency had "observed" that a fleeting chance acquaintance of the official had happened to be a Scientology member?
[Foto] GERHARD BESIER:
The 50 year old professor of historic theology and denominations at the University of Heidelberg also has a degree in psychology.
Beware the Cult Hunters
May 28, 1998 - Press Release
Is the German nation taking part in defamation of and discrimination against religious and philosophical minorities?
An Open Society does not need philosophy control
In an open society, the nation is not an emancipation assistance institution. It cannot do away with all risks having to do with its citizens' freedom. That would entail zealots going to excess with regulation, and would create a tendency of seeing the world in an only good or a bad light. In order not to lend credence to that kind of scandal campaign, thought policing, and philosophical-ethical repression, a high degree of tolerance, sensibility, foresight, as well as strict adherence to basic law is necessary when using critical judgment on others.
Professional and social demands are causing progressively more people to sign up for classes in [living assistance -] "stress reduction," "conflict management," and "performance optimization." Those who are seeking a new life style opt for the new religious communities because they see those concepts as being more helpful or meaningful than those offered by traditional religions. It is an unavoidable fact of life that one must take chances of finding a charlatan in either of the two areas. Therefore, it may be that a new law is required for the assurance of consumer protection. One thing for sure: a person can bring himself to ruin through either excessively high claims of performance or through religious demands of healing. However, harm can also befall him by underachievement, traditional training goals or in established religions. In that regard we find representatives of religions in a basically similar situation to that of providers of living assistance.
In early 1996, the German Parliament created an Enquete Commission for "Sects and Psycho-groups." The composition of this commission, their interim report from summer, 1997, and the circumstances which accompany their work create an uneasiness that the concluding report scheduled for release in June of 1998 will lead to serious harm for the Republic of Germany. We appeal to those responsible not to permit that which has been expressed by various European and American friends, that the German nation is again taking part in the defamation of and discrimination against religious and philosophical minorities.
1. The professional experts of the Enquete Commission includes sect commissioners of both state churches, but no experts from other religious or philosophical communities, and no representatives of the heavily criticized continuing education and management training markets. The sect commissioners of the Protestant state churches now have the potential of forming an official opinion about those who are in philosophical competition with them, and with whom they have been involved in legal proceedings in the German courts for years. Unfortunately, a dual presumption of prejudice must be taken into account on the part of the members of the Enquete Commission: They are agents of the competing religious communities and they have been involved for years in legal disputes with those whose activities they are now supposed to be judging.
2. The sect commissioners of both state churches have formed a religious "shadow commission," which has been constructed according to the needs of the current topics of the official Enquete Commission of the German Parliament. Members of the official Enquete Commission of the German Parliament are also part of this "Church Work Group to accompany the Enquete Commission." This structure adulterates the independence of the Parliament's Commission. It strengthens the influence of the large churches and is conducive to the inexpert "hierarchization" of religions in a religiously neutral nation. In the eyes of the nation, there may not be "better" or "worse" religions.
3. Journalists who have specialized in the targeting of sect or psycho-group, either for idealistic or material reasons, work in the periphery of the Enquete Commission. They have testified before German courts to having heard from Enquete Commission members reports of eye-witnesses in non-public sessions. The chairperson of the Enquete Commission sees no possibility that an indiscretion is being committed by the committee. Presumably it would also be just as alien to require strict adherence to confidentiality. Conversely, the Enquete Commission does not give the accused the possibility of expressing their views before this committee. Those accused, in contrast to the journalists in the wake of the commission, never learn that charges have been made against them, much less what the nature of them.
4. The interim report of the Enquete Commission assured us that the commission was dealing with the definition and clarification of accusations. However, from the unproven suspicions thrust upon the public as well as from their dissemination, crudeness and generalization, they came across as social servants who are bad for business, and induced hate-mongering against small religious categories. These kind of results are unacceptable.
5. If the organizations affected were to obtain legal, psychological/ psychiatric, sociological or theological opinions from independent experts, their results would be, for the most part, ignored and the experts would be marginalized as prejudiced. The organizations' own incentive to render an account of their techniques and methods of work thereby comes to naught.
6. The Enquete Commission of the German Parliament has a great tradition and has been able to present numerous significant results. That also goes for when they - contrary to applicable parliamentary law - not only gather legally relevant information and give recommendations for action, but also receive an assignment for research, opinions, and analyses. The history of the Enquete Commission and the expansion of their scope of competence contains a high obligation. The decision of May 9, 1996 by the German Parliament to establish a "Sects and Psycho-Groups" for the Enquete Commission also goes far beyond the legal bounds. It aims "to obtain, gather and categorize information about new religious and philosophical movements, as well as to analyze the social background of their appearance and spread." Unfortunately that presupposes in advance that dangers will precede the "Psycho-Groups and Sects," instead of asking whether and which dangers emerge from the groups themselves, and on which facts these are based.
7. Since the assignment of the Enquete Commission does not deal with illegality, but refers, with greater uncertainty, to "new religious and philosophical movements," the committee has envisioned itself as being empowered to expand it even further. Its interim report stated, "The spectrum of the categorization today encompasses providers of mental support and healing principles of the religious, philosophical, political, psychological, and pedagogical variety." Even church fringe groups, "Pentecostal, charismatic, and apocalyptics" were part of the commission's work. The problem with these kind of groups, according to the interim report of the Enquete Commission, does not lie in the commission of illegalities, but that they or their members could come "into conflict" with their environment. The Commission opined, "Judging the condition of conflict is a central task of the Enquete Commission." How often the "conflicts" arise is not taken into account. If those who are "indiscriminate" enough to be accused try to legally defend themselves against slanderous media campaigns with complaints meant to protect their honor, the accusers undergo no risk to speak of. For instance, the legal costs of the sect commissioners are defrayed by church taxes. Special teams of attorneys review the campaign texts, so that they can still remain within the limits of freedom of speech and of the press.
8. The Enquete Commission's interim report left out testimony from some of its authors because of philosophical or social political prejudice. A portion of the membership of the Enquete Commission had to declare itself biased against one of the religious sociological oriented sect concepts, because they themselves would count as members of "sects" under this criteria. However, the representatives of "Alliance 90/the Greens" managed to keep a clear head and maintain a tradition of citizen rights in this committee. Their differing opinion of the interim report included, "...that according to previous results of the the Commission's work, no facts are known that would justify looking for general danger for individuals, society or nation in religious or philosophical minorities. The accumulated expertise of the Enquete Commission from the Netherlands came to a quite similar conclusion.
9. We have listened to a selection of particularly incriminated groups. We have studied their convictions as well as their methods, and read opinions prepared by their colleagues. These included, in particular, representatives of the free continuing education and management training markets, who, generally speaking, were not heard by the Enquete Commission, although individual members of the Commission have been carrying on an embittered struggle against them. In no case could we ascertain evidence of injurious treatment against persons, groups, or organizations. There was just as little evidence of the effectiveness of their assistance, although we were able to note much of use. This result does not rule out that people could come to harm through treatment or advice from the living assistance courses offered by these groups. However, even with the best intentions, the advice of a friend, relative, teacher or minister in the area of pre-med psychological care could also be designated as fallible.
Keep in mind that people who are looking for counseling assistance can be suffering from severe psychological, social or medical problems. This kind of problem is frequently not mentioned and is not always immediately visible to the counselor. One can only hold the counseling assistant to be responsible if he had the means at hand with which he could help. However, it would be unrealistic to demand a university and post-graduate education in medicine or psychology from every religious or psychological counselor - and even that would not preclude harm in individual cases. On the other hand, there may be living assistance available which could actually be helpful, but which would hardly stand the scrutiny of scientific dogma.
We have intentionally not addressed "Scientology," because the one-sided theorization about this group apparently fills the function of serving as a kind of "can opener" for the combined areas of "Sects and Psycho-groups."
10. We ask the German population to be neither influenced by the new spiritual claims of monopoly or control, nor to be infected with the mass hysteria of the cult hunter, and to not participate in the demonizing of minorities or denounce others because they frequent this or another group's establishments. The sect hunt relies for its existence on the artificially induced concept that it is protecting the citizens from hidden threats. In truth, it is the inquisitional work of the sect hunters which threatens freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. This threat cannot be removed by verbally cosmetic measures such as the elimination of sect words or phrases. It is more important that the multi-cultural, multi-denominational, multi-philosophical development of our society be accepted. The sect hunts, which are all the trend, give more cause for concern about civil rights than do the great majority of "sects and psycho-groups."
Federal Secretary, Dr. Hans Apel (Hamburg/Rostock),
Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Besier (Heidelberg/Munich),
Prof. Dr. Niels Birbaumer (Tuebingen/Padua),
Prof. Dr. Martin Kriele (Cologne),
Prof. Dr. Hermann Luebbe (Zurich),
Prof. Dr. Erwin Scheuch (Cologne).
From: "DIE WELT"
May 28, 1998 Conflict of Interest? Dispute over the Bonn Enquete Commission
by Gernot Facius
Berlin - Does the German nation take part in the defamation and discrimination of religious and philosophical minorities? This question was asked by seven professors, among them Hermann Luebbe, the philosopher, Gerhard Besier, the Protestant church historian, and Hans Apel, the former leader social democratic federal minister from Rostock. They also have an answer: the Bonn Enquete Commission's on "So-called Sects and Psycho- groups", commissioned in 1996, is a step in the direction of developing a "philosophical supervision", not befitting of an open society. The professorial doctors together warn of the "inquisitional work of the cult hunters."
The warning letter has not appeared at this particular time by accident: the final report of the Commission is due in June. Their combination alone provokes contradiction: "their [Enquete Commission's] expert members should include sect and philosophical commissioners from both state churches, not just experts from other religious and philosophical communities and no representatives from the heavily criticized free continuation school market and management training. The sect commissioners of the state churches now have the possibility of dealing with those who stand in philosophical competition with them, those whom they have been taking to court for years."
The authors state that a conflict of interest exists with a portion of the Commission's members. "They are agents of the competing religious societies, and they find themselves at legal odds with those whom they are supposed to be judging." The church representatives formation of their own "shadow commission" as members of the Enquete Commission has touched upon the independence of the parliamentary committee: they strengthen their influence with the large churches and strengthen an inappropriate "hierarchy" of religions in a philosophically neutral state. In the eyes of the nation, there may not be "better" or "worse" religions.
The professors themselves have heard a selection of "particularly incriminating groups", have studied their convictions as well as their methods of work, and read the appropriate opinions. Representatives of the free continuation classes market and management training, in particular, belonged to this group. "In no case could we confirm evidence of harmful treatment of persons, groups or organizations," concluded the group of seven. "Neither was it evident, however, that any of the offered assistance was effective, even though we could also note much of use.
The team of professors had "explicitly not addressed" Scientology, because, in their opinion, this group's one-sided discussion worked as a kind of "can-opener" for the entire area of the so-called sects and psycho-groups. Even splinter groups on the fringes of churches with "evangelical, philosophical, psychological or judgment day inclinations" were affected by the commission's work. The multi-cultural, confessional, and philosophical development of society must be accepted.
The "cult hunts" in fashion offer more cause for citizen concern than most of the so-called sects and special groups, according to the appeal. Besides Luebbe, Besier and Apel, Nobel prize-winner Niels Birbaumer of the University of Tubingen, rights advocate Martin Kriele of Cologne and Erwin Scheuch, a sociologist also from Cologne signed the letter.
Masquerade Ball for Scientologists
by Michael Schwelien
January 17, 1997
"Die Zeit, Nr. 4"
The Scientology sect and their fight against Germany
Washington - Agitation reigns in Germany over the open letter to Helmut Kohl which appeared last week as a full-page newspaper advertisement in the International Herald Tribune. Almost three dozen American celebrities - none of which say they are Scientologists - vented their rage about the treatment of the sect in Germany. They drew parallels to the persecution of the Jews. This gave rise to comment in countries besides Germany; even the London Times took note of the abstruse comparison between the Federal Republic and Hitler's Germany. On the other side of the Atlantic, the stir over the "sect war against Chancellor Kohl" is being kept in check. At first only "USA Today" (it is much more moderate than "Bild" magazine) reported on the advertisements. The newspaper reprinted the especially shocking sentence "In the 1930's it was the Jews, today it is the Scientologists" without comment.
The signers are people who can be taken seriously, among them intellectual actors like Dustin Hoffman, authors like Gore Vidal and Mario Puzo, great producers like Konstantin Costa-Gavras and Oliver Stone and the television moderator known across the nation, Larry King. To be sure, King did not respond at all to a message left on one of his answering machines. And producer Konstantin Costa-Gavras, in the meantime, has even distanced himself from the statement. The comparison between the Jewish persecution in the "Third Reich" and the treatment of the Scientology adherents in Germany is "tendentious, stupid and unacceptable," Le Monde quoted him.
The open letter is the apex of a long, ongoing campaign against Germany. Since last summer an organization called "Germany Alert," financed by the Scientologists, has been regularly taking out advertisements Fridays in the New York Times. Under titles such as "Don't Let History Repeat Itself" they have equated German boycotts of Scientologist Tom Cruise's film "Mission Impossible" and the plan of keeping Scientologists from civil service with Nazi atrocities. The advertisements fizzled out without having any effect. One single time a commentator in the Washington Post addressed the accusations. He demanded that the Germans strictly maintain basic rights and respect religious freedom.
At least two times Nicholas Burns, the speaker of the State Department, was asked about the advertisements at press conferences and about measures against Scientologists in Germany. He called the accusations in the advertisements "without merit" and indicated that Bonn had not decided to take "draconian or repressive measures against the Church of Scientology."
The reaction to the open letter of last week was generally reserved. Although serious publications like the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek reported on the open letter, the catchword was "celebrities." Hundreds of thousands of dollars for the advertisements in the United States was thrown into the wind, so to speak. With the one open letter in Europe the Scientologists found an audience in their own country. But could they also maliciously pervert America's picture of Germany? For five minutes last Sunday ABC television reported in their prime newscast on "Religious Discrimination - once again in Germany?" Both sides came to words, Scientologists and sect experts. This is according to the model of fairness used by American news. The report did not mention political parties, but stated that Germany, as a lesson learned from totalitarianism, had adapted a "different attitude" towards sects. Moreover, neither on ABC nor elsewhere in the American media have the celebrity letter signers explained themselves in more detail. Only a little rustling in the forest of newspapers, only one careful television broadcast - the Scientologists as victims of German monsters, that did not go over so well in the United States.
To be sure most Americans would not be in agreement with bans against Scientologists. Religious freedom there is practically infinite; it is only restricted by criminal law. Thousands of categories and groups can pray to whom or whatever they wish. As long as they are not committing a crime, the state does not concern itself with them. That is how the basic values of the country arose: many of the early immigrants had been persecuted in their old homeland because of their religious beliefs.
At the same time, there is also something in the United States like a state acknowledgment or rejection of a religious community. It is decided with the tax laws. Acknowledged congregations enjoy tax exemption. The American revenue agency has had a difficult time with the Scientologists. Only after a decades long dispute, it granted Ron Hubbard's adherents tax-free status in 1993.
The American Scientologists combat their critics with tough legal measures. At the end of last year an anti-cult group, which primarily investigated Satanists and Scientologists, had to declare bankruptcy. This group, the Cult Awareness Network, helped parents who feared that their children had fallen into the clutches of sects. Some Scientologists sued the group for defamation, and also because they, the Scientologists, had been denied membership. It was 12 suits like this which were were brought against the Cult Awareness Network in one week alone in 1992. Soon the entire budget of the network was going to attorney's fees. At the end it had to share responsibility in a complicated case in which a "deprogrammer" was said to have removed a young man against his will from a Pentecostal group called Life Tabernacle Church. An attorney who is a Scientologist had represented the 18 year old Pentecostal in his civil suit against the Cult Awareness Network. The bitter irony of it was that in the bankruptcy proceedings the name, logo, post office box and the telephone numbers of the network were auctioned off. Again it was an attorney, also a Scientologist, who bought everything. It is possible that the Scientologists will even get all the archives. It is very likely that someone who is not aware of the change in ownership of the Cult Awareness Network will call them up, perhaps because a daughter has joined the Scientologists, only to be greeted by a Scientologist.
Despite the strict separation of church and state, the American governmental agencies will have to intervene if people are regularly being pressed into religious communities or being held in them against their will. And the radically liberal principle of protecting even the most bizarre groups is also not without problems.
In recent memory is the wide-scale 1993 attack on the Branch Davidians' complex in Waco, Texas. The police had more than one opportunity to apprehend the leader of this death sect. Despite overwhelming suspicion of kidnapping and coercion, they just looked on as the Davidians barricaded themselves in their buildings and planted suicidal fire bombs. At last they could think of nothing else but to lay siege and attack with heavy weapons. The many deaths in Waco would not have been necessary if this sect would have been previously relieved of their masquerade costume of religion.