12/04/2007 12:20 PM

Business, Cult or Religion?

Hamburg Official Wants a Germany-Wide Ban on Scientology

German suspicion of Scientology resurfaced in Hamburg this week after a security official said he would seek a nationwide ban against the organization. He's arguing that Scientology is an "unconstitutional" big business.

A German police officer stands in front of the Berlin Scientology Center after its grand opening in January 2007.

A German police officer stands in front of the Berlin Scientology Center after its grand opening in January 2007.

Germany and Scientology have never been the best of friends. German officials consider Scientology a business, not a religion, and tax the outfit accordingly. Scientology has responded by complaining about "religious discrimination." Yet Berlin has a Scientology center, and the famous Scientologist Tom Cruise came to Berlin this year to film a big-budget Hollywood film -- even, after some debate, in restricted Nazi-era buildings.

Now an official in Hamburg named Udo Nagel is pursuing a national ban against the US-based organization.

As the city-state's interior minister, Nagel is Hamburg's top security official. At a meeting this week of other interior ministers from other states around Germany he plans to argue that Scientology is not only a commercial enterprise but also an "anti-constitutional" group with "aggressively fierce" tactics.

The argument is nothing new; in fact the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution has watched the group for years because of its recruitment practices. The federal government worries that Scientology, as a foreign organization, wants to win over adherents and influence German politics. "There is substantial evidence that the Scientology organization is involved in activities directed against the free democratic order," the agency has written in official reports.

Nagel hinted at his new campaign last summer, when he said the group founded by and devoted to the American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard aimed at nothing less than the "complete repression of the individual."

But Nagel's office said a single German state can't push through a ban. (The city of Hamburg is governed as an independent state.) So Nagel is taking his case to colleagues in other states with the idea of forging a nationwide prohibition.

Whether it will work or not is far from clear. A spokesman for Scientology in Germany, Sabine Weber, said the new ambition to ban the group was "more than incomprehensible." She pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights had ruled in favor of Scientology after Russia denied its application to register as a religion.



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