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Human Rights in Europe

Artists Take Stand on Religious Persecution in Germany

by Emily Stewart

rtists from diverse fields came together in Strasbourg, France to speak to members of the last session of the European Parliament on the state of religious freedom for artists in Europe.

Led by renowned American actress Anne Archer, the artists told the European politicians of their own and others’ experiences of religious discrimination.

They also sent an open letter to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, containing an appeal for a new era of tolerance and the fostering of religious diversity and expression in Germany, where most of the discrimination has taken place.

“We are writing to you because it is not in our nature to accept discrimination silently,” said the joint letter. Inspired in part by Schroeder’s slogan advocating a “fairer Germany,” the letter calls on the new Chancellor “to align the policies of the new German government to your country’s Constitution and international and European human rights law and jurisprudence.”

Renowned American actress Anne Archer
Renowned American actress Anne Archer and a delegation of European artists at the Council of Europe, where they briefed politicians on religious discrimination in Germany.

Discrimination against artists for their religious affiliation is intended to take a personal toll on the individuals’ livelihood. Enrique Ugarte, Spanish composer and conductor, conveyed his experiences with discrimination in Germany. Ugarte has conducted some of the top orchestras in Europe, including the Basque National Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra, and is also the holder of the European championship for accordion playing. He currently lives in Germany, where he has also performed in the country’s finest opera houses.

According to a complaint filed with the United Nations and several human rights organizations, a German music company suddenly terminated Ugarte’s appointment to a prestigious musical directorship solely because of his privately held religious beliefs.

The German company, C&P Gruppe of Stuttgart, had prepared a contract to secure Ugarte’s role in a planned international “Opera Circus.” The show was to continue for two years, representing a $1 million contract for Ugarte.

“During the contractual proceedings, I mentioned to the head of the organizing company, Mr. Conzelmann from C&P, that I am a member of the Church of Scientology. He then told me that he cannot employ me on that basis,” Ugarte stated in an open letter he sent to art organizations.

A representative of the company told Ugarte that earlier he had to sign several contracts with sponsoring companies which state that he is not allowed to employ any members of the Church of Scientology. Ugarte was shown such a contract from one of the sponsors, Southgerman Bank (LBS)—coincidentally the same company which reportedly pressured a German tennis club to cancel a contract with French tennis star Arnaud Boetsch earlier in 1998 because Boetsch is a Scientologist.

“I never withheld my religious affiliation but also I do not mix my profession and religion during my work,” said Ugarte.

Ugarte’s complaint to the United Nations specifically refers to the Recommendation Concerning the Status of the Artist, promulgated by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). That document notes that Member States, which includes Germany, “should ensure that all individuals, irrespective of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion ... have the same opportunities to ... obtain employment, and to exercise their profession without discrimination.”

Separate complaints were registered with UNESCO and the United Nations Centre for Human Rights, urging continued monitoring of the general German problem and requesting appropriate actions on behalf of Mr. Ugarte.

Anne Archer has also experienced discrimination in Germany, and she has been an outspoken voice against violations of human rights and freedoms that routinely occur in the country. Other artists, as well as non-artists, acknowledge that Archer’s initiative and example have helped them to find the courage to stand up to the discrimination and speak out.

And although the artists’ appeal to Chancellor Schroeder mainly addresses discrimination against artists who are members of the Church of Scientology, it points out to the Chancellor that “many religious minorities in your country have been blacklisted and are subject to like discrimination. The severity of the problem is underlined by the wide range of minority religions affected by intolerance: Christian Charismatics, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Jews, Hindus and Sikhs.”

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