The name on the door in the Sendling district of Munich sounded innocent enough: "Kinderhäusl" (Little House for Kids). Child-drawn art hung in the windows. On a normal day, the sounds of children playing would have come from inside.
But the little house, which had been open as a day-care center since the summer of 2007, was shut down Monday by Munich officials, who say its teaching methods are illegal. An estimated 20 children will now have to find new day-care.
"The well-being of the children in the establishment was under threat," the Munich Education Department declared, "because the education process was based on the principles of Scientology." The organization's principles threaten a child's right to free growth and development, the statement continued.
The German government has been locked for years in legal battles with the Church of Scientology, which it considers a cult and a threat to its democratic system. The idea of a day-care center run by Scientologists would have raised official hackles, and in fact the Kinderhäusl's troubles started early.
"A few weeks after the center opened we received a letter from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution," Eva-Maria Volland from Munich's Education Department told SPIEGEL ONLINE. All members of the Kinderhäusl's board were Scientologists, according to the letter, and the children were being raised according to the cult's ideology.
Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution was set up after World War II to pursue any group which the government deemed a specific threat to its democratic system. Neo-Nazis as well as radical Muslim groups have been watched and shut down by the office.
A regional court in Germany recently ruled that Scientologists had enough "ambitions against the free, democratic basic order" for the agency to go on watching them.
"There are concrete indications that Scientology's activities are to implement Scientology's program in Germany," the court in North Rhine-Westphalia ruled on Feb. 12, "and to expand more and more Scientology's principles in government, economy and society." Scientologists have consistently claimed that they do nothing against German law and say the government persecutes them.
The Education Department in Munich sent inspectors to the day-care center last winter; then state officials asked the center for an explanation of their work. Scientologists organized protests against this pressure, but on Monday the Education Department announced that the Kinderhäusl's license to operate had been revoked.
Nicola Cramer, who sits on the day-care center's board and whose own child attended the Kinderhäusl, called the decision a "government discrimination campaign" against a "religious community," saying the center was "neutral in its world-view" and open to children from any creed. "We will appeal this decision," she said.