Harassment Condemned by State Department
Germany for 5th consecutive year
s mandated by U.S. law, the U.S. State Department tendered its annual Country Human Rights Report at the beginning of the year, addressing nation-by-nation compliance with international accords and obligations governing human rights.
More than in any previous year, Germany featured prominently in the report's criticism, covering some 16 pages of the report. It is the fifth consecutive year the discussion of Germany has focused on serious concerns over politically sanctioned discrimination against members of the Church of Scientology.
Yet equally significant is that this year's report also criticized Germany's discriminatory and undemocratic treatment of other religious groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses and Charismatic Christians who have been subject to "vandalism, threats of violence and public harassment or scrutiny by sect commissioners."
It was the second time in less than two weeks that the German government's "sect commission" has come under fire from State Department authorities. (See "Advisory Committee Cites 'Harassment, Intimidation and Violence'")
Most examples of discrimination cited in the Country Human Rights report were incidents not only condoned but instigated by one of Germany's major political parties: "Authorities have sometimes sought to deregister Scientology organizations.... Most major political parties continued to exclude Scientologists from membership...."
This year's report was also significant for the detail it offered in describing the oppressive conditions faced by German Scientologists: "So-called 'sect-filters,' statements by individuals that they are not affiliated with Scientology, are used by some businesses and other organizations to discriminate against Scientologists in business and social dealings. Scientologists assert that business firms whose owners or executives are Scientologists, as well as artists who are Church members, have faced boycotts and discrimination, sometimes with state and local government approval. Other Church members have reported employment difficulties and, in the state of Bavaria, applicants for state civil service positions are screened for Scientology membership. Several states have published pamphlets warning of alleged dangers posed by Scientology. In October, a Berlin hotel and a firm renting meeting space reportedly refused to rent space for public events to be held at their facilities when they learned that the Church of Scientology was involved in organizing the events."
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State John Shattuck, speaking at the press conference where the report was released, framed the U.S. government's concerns when he remarked that "Scientologists are experiencing uneven treatment not for their actions but merely for their religious affiliations."
The key international documents providing the standards against which the U.S. State Department conducted its country-by-country review include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, recognizes in Article 18, that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" as a right stemming from the inherent dignity and equality of every person. It also provides the individual with the "freedom to change his religion or belief" and the "freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teachings, practice, worship and observance."
The 1998 Country Human Rights Report was the most embarrassing yet for German government officials bent on abusing human rights."We are pleased," said Leisa Goodman, spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International, "but it is important to remember that the object of criticism by the State Department and other human rights bodies is to bring change. So long as people are denied equal rights and lives are ruined with government aid or consent, we will continue to fight until we see that change."