Although the British Ad Hoc Committee noted the financial interest of the two old churches in eradicating competition, it also reported another interesting political motive.
It is worth noting, states the report, that in September 1996, the former Minister of Justice, Sabina Leuthheusser-Schnarrenburger, criticized proposed measures specifically against Scientologists as a tactic to set aside constitutional principles, the rule of law, [and] the restriction of the authority of the state in order to erode individual rights and introduce a thought police in Germany.
In other words, the Committee noted, the former Federal Justice Minister is saying that the attacks against the sects are simply a device to dismantle constitutional safeguards for all Germans.
Enter the Church of Scientology
The first Church of Scientology was established in Germany in 1971. Twenty-five years later, it has grown from one small group to 8 churches, 12 missions and numerous groups throughout the country. Of all the religions termed new in Germany, it is without a doubt the most successful. Its churches are prominently located in central areas of the main cities and open to visitors, and its members are usually involved and active in their communities. In other words, the Church of Scientology is highly visible in Germany and its members are generally outspoken and prosperous.
While many smaller groups have fallen beneath the hammer of the Sect Priests and Sect Political Commissars, the Church of Scientology has flourished. There may be many reasons for this, but one undeniable factor is that the Church of Scientology long ago passed the test of standing up to corrupt governments and those who have other goals for man than spiritual freedom. As former U.S. Justice Department official Quinlan J. Shea has said, [T]he Church of Scientology has significantly contributed to the preservation of democracy for everyone.
But in Germany, the response was predictable. The church-backed political onslaught has focused more and more desperately on the Church of Scientology.
In the last few years it has escalated to the point where severe acts of political discrimination against the Church of Scientology have been noted by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the U.S. State Department, the Rutherford Institute, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, members of the British House of Lords, and other human rights organizations and government bodies. (See International Outrage Grows Over German Discrimination.)
Severe unemployment and social unrest have created an angry population. This, along with unselfconscious proclamations from the nations leaders about Germanys destiny to dominate in a united Europe have caused concern among others on the continent.
But nothing raises the specter of the past as much as the violence and discrimination levied against minorities and new religions, particularly as it is clearly endorsed by many in politics and the established churches.
Even the involvement of the churches is not surprising. In the 1920s, long before the Nazis were voted into power, the churchesparticularly the Lutheran Churchhad been instrumental in fomenting anti-Semitism.
Thus, todays church-endorsed, politically inspired attacks against minorities, foreigners and new religions in Germany set off never again alarm bells.
In a full-page open letter to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, published in the International Herald Tribune on January 9, 34 leaders in the entertainment industry registered their own protest against the discrimination being levied against the Church of Scientology and others.
In a strongly worded condemnation, the letter compared current human rights violations to the abuses of the Nazis during the 1930s.
Listing specific acts of Nazi-like intolerance occurring in modern Germany, the letter created a firestorm of controversy around the world. Yet nothing made the point of the comparison with earlier German history as finely as the arrogant response from Chancellor Kohl himself.
After alleging the letter was from people who do not understand what is going on in Germany, and dismissing it as rubbish, Kohl continued to say that he had not read it, did not intend to read it, did not know who had signed it, did not care, and was not going to respond anyway.
It was virtually a scripted reenactment of the response of Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels when confronted with complaints of Jewish persecution. Goebbels shrugged off the details and dismissed the reports, literally, as atrocity tales with no foundation.
Other German politicians tried to lessen the impact of the open letter by pointing out that nobody is being sent to the gas chambers.
Bert Fields, the renowned Los Angeles entertainment lawyer and author of the open letter, responded: Even though they use a lot of terms like rubbish, said Fields, not one single fact is stated denying the factual allegations in our letter. They cant deny them because they are true.
Theyre just politicians spouting the party line. No one has compared this to Auschwitz. Were talking about what happened to Jews in the early part of the Nazi regime, when they were barred from public life. Thats just the kind of thing that is happening to Scientologists today. Were not saying theyre sending people to death camps; were saying lets not get it started.
Reverend Heber C. Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International, added, If German politicians do not consider religious persecution a problem until millions are being exterminated, you can see how far down the road they have come already.
Members of the British Ad Hoc Committee say they repeatedly ran into German officials who emphatically denied that discrimination existed at all in Germany. Since they found evidence to the contrary so widespread, the Committees report describes an inescapable feeling that an honest answer from these officials would have been that Hitler got it wrong in the way he dealt with sects, but we have not. We are setting about it in a strictly legal way. (A U.S. diplomat, however, noted that one of the overriding qualities of the German government attacks against Scientology is that they are all extralegal in our view.)
But some German officials are not so worried about maintaining appearances of propriety. Ursula Caberta, head of a Hamburg government Scientology task force, told the Los Angeles Times that she considers it a point of honor that [she has been called] the new Goebbels, referring to the Nazi propagandist.
Devoid of Facts
Evidence of the extent of the political attacks on the Church of Scientology, and their injustice, is seen in their outcome:
- Since 1980, 158 unfounded criminal and penal complaints have been brought against the Church of Scientology and Scientologists. Every investigation has confirmed the same thing: No criminal activity was found and every one of the complaints was dismissed. This incessant and outrageous number of investigations clearly demonstrates a government policy to harass the Church.
- Thirty-six local and regional German courts have held that Scientology is a bona fide religion, and thus eligible for protection under the Constitution.
- No German court case involving a Scientology church has resulted in a finding that Scientology is not a religion entitled to treatment as such.
The Church of Scientology will continue to stand up, not only for its own rights, but also for the rights of those who do not have a voice. But in the meantime, the toll in destroyed individual lives is far from insignificant. For those who remain in Germany, a career built over an entire lifetime can be destroyed if it is found that one is a member of a sect. Several former top businessmen have suddenly found themselves unemployed and, in Germany, unemployable. A German can be banned from political parties for no reason but his religion. And, more outrageously, the party court will uphold the expulsion. Children may suffer endless torment at school from children who were formerly best friends if it is found that their parentsnot the childrenhold religious beliefs deemed wrong. More and more the only alternative is to leave Germany to seek refuge and freedom in other countries. (See ...Yearning to be Free.)
We will continue to monitor Germany
The open letter to Chancellor Kohl published in the International Herald Tribune has intensified the outrage against German discrimination to unprecedented levels around the world. But it is not the first voice of support from the U.S.
In a December 26, 1996, letter from the White House, Samuel R. Berger, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, told U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney: I assure you that we will continue to closely monitor the treatment of Scientologists in Germany and to oppose discrimination in the strongest terms.
Describing political actions taken against Scientologists in Germany as excessive and inappropriate, Berger wrote: We have noted with concern the obstacles that American Scientologists have faced in recent months, and are troubled by language in the CDU party platform, the German Federal Minister of Labors outspoken remarks and measures taken by the Bavarian Parliament.
In a similar letter, addressed to Kohl, on December 31, 1996, U.S. Representative Louise M. Slaughter urged the Chancellor to take action to prevent further discrimination.
Citing numerous examples of official discrimination against artists who are also Scientologists, Congresswoman Slaughter wrote: The only proper role for the German government is to create a culture of tolerance toward all artists, regardless of their religious views. Therefore, I ask that you make clear to all German government and CDU party officials your disapproval of discrimination against artists on the basis of religion.
Kohl obviously ignored this request, as his fellow CDU politicians have ignored all others. But as the open letter made clear, the international community is not going to go away:
Extremists of your party should not be permitted to believe that the rest of the world will look the other way. Not this time.
Grass Roots Action
Until the open letter to Chancellor Kohl was published in the International Herald Tribune, concern about the rise of neo-fascist intolerance and violence in Germany was largely limited to political and human rights circles. Millions more are now aware of the shadow looming over Europe. No, there are no death camps. There were no death camps in 1933, either. But the frequency of assaults, threats, and other acts of calculated intolerance against a wide range of groups deemed non-German are continuing to rise.
Chancellor Kohl and his party express outrage at the suggestion that history is repeating itself. Despite alarming parallels, they respond with near violence at the mere suggestion. Yet even at the outbreak of war in 1939, many were saying strikingly similar words.
Even after the November 1938 horror of Kristallnacht, when the windows of 7,500 Jewish stores and businesses were shattered, synagogues destroyed and Jews murdered, some Jews were still writing to relatives overseas saying that things would work outthey just had to stay calm and be patient.
Things did not work out. With the rear view mirrors of history, we can see that the course of events was set years earlier when the whole world ignored the warning signs. As Simon Wiesenthal said, The Holocaust didnt begin with ovens. By then its too late. It begins with words.
If words are the warning signs by which the world monitors the exile of Germanys demons, the time to start worrying is long past.