February 28, 1998
Bundestag (German Assembly) representatives sought enlightenment in the USA - concerned with "consumer protection"
From our correspondent Jurgen Koar
Washington - the friendly superpower exercises criticism of its ally Germany in a human rights report. President Bill Clinton promised John Travolta to speak his mind with Bonn. His Security Advisor Sandy Berger met with the Hollywood star, who has already taken Germany to task on more than one occasion for "persecution of religious minorities" as if it were a highly volatile matter. The Germans expressed surprise, complained about the lack of understanding on the part of the Americans, and stood by their rights to intolerance, at least in this case.
The discussion on both sides of the Atlantic reminded Ruth van Heuven of "two ships in the fog." The leader of the German Section of the US State Department is not worried about a collision. It is more like ships which pass each other, with neither one knowing the position of the other. The danger of misunderstandings arises. As when one is at cross-purposes with the other. Take, for example, the Scientologists.
In the past week a concerted effort was made on the part of the Germans to bring about and gain clarity. Five Bundestag representatives and five scholars of the Enquete Commission's "So-called Sects and Psycho-Groups" have led all-day discussions in Washington, have stated their mission, and have gathered impressions and information. They met up with occasional Scientologists protesting their presence with banners on the street. They met with "respect for the German point of view" from the American hosts, as the FDP representative Roland Kohn said.
On the other hand it became clear to some members of the delegation that in the past a lack of calmness could have created the false impression of a witch hunt. For decades the American government itself had been at odds with the Scientologists, but that had to do with the recognition of tax status rather than with being a non-profit organization. Since 1993 that is no longer an issue, since religious freedom is untouchable in the land of the Pilgrim Fathers.
If there are complaints, that is a matter for the lawyers, not for the state, which is not on call in the USA as it usually is in Europe. "In Germany the question is asked how defensive must democracy be, with us it is asked how open democracy must be", noted a high-ranking member of the US State Department. Defamation of individual citizens on the basis of group membership, rather than because of anything they themselves are to blame for, is said to border on imprudence.
From time to time political indiscretions have been committed in Germany, as has been conceded by members of the Enquete Commission. But they stand united in making it clear that these indiscretions certainly do not make up the entirety of their careers. The goal of their work is to neither decrease religious freedom, nor is it to put the heads of sects and psycho-groups upon pikes. Their assignment is rather, as Kohn formulates it, "to impel public discussion of a society in upheaval, and to create conditions for the discussion of new pluralism." Not least of which is to bring about a condition which deals with more visibility of "consumer protection" in the emerging market of 'attainable life management assistance." Lawyers of victims of American sects have even expressed the hope, reported Kohn, that the coming Enquete report, which is to be available to Parliament at the end of May, will bring about public discussion and also increase the awareness of the problem.