A plan by Germany's state interior ministers to attempt to ban Scientology appears to have little chance of success. According to an assessment made by officials at the country's state and federal intelligence agencies, the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution, there isn't enough evidence at the moment to ban the controversial organization.
Reacting to a request made by the state of Hamburg to ban the organization, German Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and his counterparts at the state level ordered domestic intelligence agencies on Friday to start collecting material that could be used in efforts to ban the organization, which is considered a religion in the United States but a business in Germany. Domestic intelligence agencies were set up in post-war Germany to protect the country from the threat of neo-Nazis, dangerous right- and left-wing radicals and other threats to a free democratic order.
In an interview published in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Schäuble described Scientology as an "unconstitutional organization."
"Fundamental basic and human rights like the dignity of man or the right to equal treatment are restricted or abrogated. It rejects the democratic system," Schäuble told the paper.
Talking to the Associated Press, Sabine Weber, president of the Berlin chapter of the Church of Scientology, called Schäuble's remarks "unrealistic" and "absurd," saying his evaluation had been based "on a few sentences out of 500,000 pages of Scientological literature." The Bible, she added, also has "hundreds" of quotes "that are totalitarian, but that doesn't mean I will demand the ban of Christianity."
In the run-up to Friday's meeting, domestic intelligence agencies determined that the organization does indeed operate in ways that are hostile to the country's constitution. The dangers presented by the group they found, however, were limited because Scientology has had little success "infiltrating" German society. The group's membership numbers have also stagnated.
State-level domestic intelligence agencies warn that it will be difficult to prove that Scientology is violating a provision of the country's right of association law that excludes groups that break the law or seek to undermine democratic order.
Some politicians have also expressed skepticism that the ban effort will succeed. "I doubt they will be able to find sufficient evidence to ban Scientology," Sebastian Edathy, the Social Democratic Party chief of the German parliament's domestic affairs committee, told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. He described Scientology as problematic, but said it was "not really applying the axe to the democratic order."
Back in 2002, several researchers commissioned by the state of Bavaria completed a comprehensive report that concluded that Scientology's structure stood "in contradiction to central principles of (Germany's) legal order," but researchers spoke only of "indications" that the organization might violate the German right of association law.
State and federal interior ministries now say they will conduct more intensive surveillance of the organization through autumn of 2008 and see how Scientology develops before deciding whether to take further steps against it.