European Human Rights Office, Church of Scientology
delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Berlin, Germany, May 29-31, 1998
My focus is Western Europe. If you are a Scientologist in Germany today, you will certainly be wondering what on earth is going on. If you are not required to openly state or sign a form that you are not a Scientologist, you are certainly likely to be very wary in the course of your everyday life, certainly at your work, in saying that you belong to this particular religion. At least if you want to keep your job! You have already been stripped of the right to belong to any of the major political parities—with the exception of the Greens—because they are all caught up in the fear that Scientologists will infiltrate the party, whatever that could mean. It surely doesn’t say very much for their own political certainty.
In numerous forms of culture and social life, there are blocks and barriers just because of your religion. These range from exclusion from nursery school, to financial grants being withdrawn or denied to artists who also happen to be Scientologists. Scientologists are in the limelight, but this discrimination is directed at almost all minority religions. Besides being the focus of discrimination, we also happen to be rather unrepentant and relentless in opposing it.
The situation in Germany has had a major influence on the overall European problem. While the rest of Europe is nowhere near as bad, from France to Finland there are anti-cult associations and political moves to restrict, inhibit, control, or outright ban this “great danger to our society.” France and Belgium have had their parliamentarian commissions on the subject, shamefully, for supposedly professional bodies, producing reports that do not stand the light of any critical analysis. Now, France has an observatory on sects, and Belgium is in the throes of establishing one. Austria passed a law which has serious implications for minority religions, which was intended solely to prevent minority religions from gaining the same status as the established ones.
I haven’t even touched on Central and Eastern Europe, where the situation is far worse. Furthermore, both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe Assembly are at different stages of producing their own reports. These great Western democracies are nowhere near setting the standards they should be at the political level. A notable exception is Holland, which does continue to adhere to international standards of freedom of religion, and does raise its voice on the issue. Politically, other countries such as the UK and the Scandinavian countries, are also relatively quiet. If not currently taking the role of human rights defenders, they are not falling into the role of persecutors either.
It is clear is that there is a hysteria on the subject. So, where does this leave us, and what exactly do we have to do to tackle the problem? Very concisely stated, I see it like this: A small but vocal minority consists of two quite different and opposing philosophical groups, which have formed a tacit and, if unspoken, unhealthy alliance to repress religious minorities. On the one side, there are certain factions within the traditional religions, which consider their religion to be the only true faith, or some reason along these lines. This is evidenced most vividly by the network of sect priests, which exist here in Germany, the attitude of many in the Orthodox Church in Greece, and the anti-religious group called the Dialogue Center. The other side consists of what, for the sake of a better label, I shall call the materialistic, anti-clerical tradition. This philosophy is strongly opposed to any kind of religious belief, considering it to be a human weakness and delusion. These are best seen in the French and Belgium anti-religious groups, such as Act III, and the politicians that speak for them.
These two movements attack what they consider to be a common enemy. Ironically, this is very shortsighted for the first group of traditional religions. In their attempts to repress what they see as a danger to their own existence, or at least a threat to their whole way of life, they in fact threaten the very foundation of their own freedom and existence. There is however another common denominator, and that is the intent to destroy, repress, or otherwise get rid of this perceived threat to their existence.
This is where they differ from the majority of their fellows from the same philosophical or religious groupings, who are quite happy to let others have their own belief, even if they think it is not best for them. I think that this last point is a very important distinction, because the majority of people from either side are essentially tolerant. Unless they are cowed or persuaded into accepting an outspoken position, they are open to examining the facts, if only one can find a means to reach them.
At the root of this discrimination is hatred, or at best, a fear of the tolerance of different belief systems. It is only possible to perpetuate and feed this hatred by spreading false, misleading, alarmist, and derogatory information about the other belief systems, at which point you can get others to accept the false information disseminated.
This is done in Germany primarily through the German Sect Priest network, and groups such as the French Act III, or the Dialogue Center. This percolates through the political system. For example, in Germany, there is a clear connection between the two largest religions and the political parties. Finally, it is not a majority of the people who want this, but a very vocal minority, often supported by sensationalist media.
So, how do we tackle this problem? On the positive side, the academic world, broadly speaking, has studied the phenomena of minority religions, and found that the huge majority of them do not present any threat to society. This opinion is based on extensive study, and actual examination of the facts. There is a wealth of information. Unfortunately, it does not get translated into terms readily available to the man on the street. This also means that politicians who, on the whole, do not usually get to read more than a few pages on a subject before they vote on it, are not adequately informed by the facts.
It seems to me that we need to activate a broad and positive information campaign. We need to get the correct information out into society: to the man on the street, and to the politicians who vote on the laws. In order to do this, it is vital to open up interfaith cooperation. New religions speak together to some extent, as do the traditional religions, but they are hard-pressed to meet together.
I offer the following points:
- In many and varied ways, we should get different professional studies on minority religions out into the public domain. These should be written in such a way that they can be easily read.
- Independent academics should do studies on the anti-cult group phenomenon, and examine the causes behind them, their methodology, and the techniques that they use to fight against religious minorities.
- Interfaith activity needs to be more established. By this, I mean dialogue and working together. Established churches should not just meet with other established churches. Minority groups should not meet only with other minorities. Rather, there should be dialogue and action involving all religions, established and new, majority and minority. There must be a greater unity of action among the religions, and the organizations concerned with the subject of religious freedom. This is vital to halt the erosion in civil and human rights in Europe caused by the current hysteria, especially here in Germany, but in other countries too.
- Understanding of the issue needs to be developed within the media, so that they can report on the subject adequately.
These are at least four broad tactical actions, which could be employed to reverse the tide of intolerance that has been steadily growing these last 10 years.
Scientologists are basically an optimistic bunch. We believe in tackling the problem head on. We think there is a great future ahead for us—and by us I don’t just mean those who are Scientologists, but for all. We know it is going to take hard work. We want to take responsibility for the problem. Of course, given the variety of human frailties, there will always be ups and downs, but we believe that Europe and the rest of the world will pull through this low point, provided there are enough people of all beliefs who will stand together, work together, and act together to rid this continent of the repressive view, whose vision does not include those beliefs that are different than theirs.