Scientology Controversies - Treatment of Scientologists in Germany

Treatment of Scientologists in Germany

Based on the 1993 IRS decision granting Scientology tax-exempt status, the U.S. Department of State formally criticized Germany for discriminating against Scientologists and began to note Scientologists' complaints of harassment and discrimination in its annual Human Rights Reports, starting from the 1993 report. Since then, the U.S. Department of State has repeatedly expressed its concerns over the violation of Scientologists' individual rights posed by "sect filters", whereby potential employees are required to divulge any association with Scientology before they are considered for a job. It has also warned that companies and artists associated with Scientology may be subject to "government-approved discrimination and boycotts" in Germany. Past targets of such boycotts have included Tom Cruise and jazz pianist Chick Corea.

In 1997, an open letter to then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, published as a newspaper advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, drew parallels between the "organized oppression" of Scientologists in Germany and Nazi policies espoused by Germany in the 1930s. The letter was signed by Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn and a number of other Hollywood celebrities and executives. Commenting on the matter, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State criticized Germany's treatment of Scientologists and said that Scientologists were indeed discriminated against in Germany, but condemned any comparisons of this treatment to the Nazis' treatment of Jews as extremely inappropriate, an opinion echoed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights.

German officials sharply rejected the accusations. They said that Germany guarantees the freedom of religion, but characterized Scientology as a profit-making enterprise, rather than a religion, and emphasized that precisely because of Germany's Nazi past, Germany took a determined stance against all "radical cults and sects, including right-wing Nazi groups", and not just against Scientology. According to a 1997 Time magazine article, most Germans consider Scientology a subversive organization, with pollsters reporting 70% popular support for banning Scientology in Germany.

In late 1997, the United States granted asylum to a German Scientologist, Antje Victore, who claimed she would be subject to religious persecution in her homeland. In 2000, the German Stern magazine published a report asserting that several rejection letters which the woman had submitted as part of her asylum application – ostensibly from potential employers who were rejecting her because she was a Scientologist – had in fact been written by fellow Scientologists at her request and that of the Office of Special Affairs and that she was in personal financial trouble and about to go on trial for tax evasion at the time she applied for asylum. On a 2000 visit to Clearwater, Florida, Ursula Caberta of the Scientology Task Force for the Hamburg Interior Authority likewise alleged that the asylum case had been part of an "orchestrated effort" by Scientology undertaken "for political gain", and "a spectacular abuse of the U.S. system". German expatriate Scientologists resident in Clearwater, in turn, accused Caberta of stoking a "hate campaign" in Germany that had "ruined the lives and fortunes of scores of Scientologists" and maintained that Scientologists had not "exaggerated their plight for political gain in the United States." Mark Rathbun, a top Church of Scientology official, said that although Scientology had not orchestrated the case, "there would have been nothing improper if it had."

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