Germany Is Focus of Scientology Dispute

Article excerpt

In yet another round in an ongoing dispute between the German government and the Church of Scientology, more than 30 American entertainment industry figures and others have published an "open letter" to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, accusing Germany of persecuting Scientologists as the country once persecuted Jews. The letter, appearing as a full-page ad January 9 in the Paris-based International Herald-Tribune, urged Kohl to halt his government's attacks against the Church of Scientology and its members before Germans turn violent as they once did against Jews.

"In the 1930s, it was the Jews," the letter said. "Today it is the Scientologists. The issue is not whether one approves or disapproves of the teachings of Scientology. Organized governmental discrimination against any group on the basis of its beliefs is abhorrent even where the majority disagree with those beliefs." In Bonn, Kohl called the letter "rubbish" and said he would not reply.

Last August a German youth group affiliated with Kohl's party called for a boycott of the movie Mission Impossible because Tom Cruise, Scientologist. In response Scientology officials asked the United Nations and the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) to investigate alleged religious discrimination against the sect.

The January 9 letter was signed by leading actors, writers, directors, producers and studio heads such as Dustin Hoffman, Aaron Spelling, Oliver Stone, Goldie Hawn, Mario Puzo, Sherry Lansing, Robert Towne and Constantin Costa-Gavras. Other signers included broadcaster Larry King and writer Gore Vidal. Film director Costa-Gavras later withdrew his support, saying he had not read the letter carefully before signing it. Once he had, he said, he was offended by the comparison to the Holocaust.

Bertram Fields, a leading entertainment industry attorney, organized the effort and covered the $62,000 cost of the ad. None of the signers are Scientologists, according to the letter.

The U.S. State Department has also joined in criticizing Germany on the issue. In its annual report on human rights the department chides Germany for what one unnamed senior administration official called its "campaign of harassment and intimidation." However, Nicholas Burns, a department spokesman, rejected the group's attempts to draw parallels between its situation and the Holocaust. "There is no pattern of discrimination against the Scientologists that compares even remotely to what happened to the Jews and to others during the Nazi era," Burns said. In response a German official charged that the U.S. had fallen prey to a Scientology public relations effort.

In recent months Germany's federal and state governments have been at loggerheads with the Church of Scientology, which claims about 30,000 members in Germany. German officials have charged Scientology with seeking to undermine German society and maintain that the controversial church is more a money-making scheme than a true religion. In December three unnamed members of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union were expelled from the party because of their Scientology affiliation.

Those dismissals on December 19 came one day after Kohl's government decided to create a central coordinating office for its drive to keep people linked to the Church of Scientology out of certain public jobs. The party said state and federal governments will work jointly to try to keep people and companies linked to Scientology away from jobs such as those involving counseling and teaching. Germany's labor minister has proposed banning Scientologists from holding any government job. …