Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 5
27th October 1997
One Europe, One Union, One Faith?
Comments on the Persecution
of Scientologists in Europe
Failures of the Debate on Europe
One of the great limitations on the debate over Europe at the moment is that it is conducted almost entirely in terms of economics. We are told, for example, that closer integration means more regulation from Brussels, and therefore fewer jobs, lower profits, and a general sinking towards the European average from which we have so conspicuously diverged.
Of course, these are true points. A United States of Europe—or anything corresponding to it—is not in British economic interests. But this is not the end of the story. There are other aspects of European life which would be established in this country, and which would be at least as alien and alarming to us as the Common Agricultural Policy, the Single Currency, or all the other horrors so well described by Christopher Booker in his Sunday Telegraph articles.
Persecution of the Scientologists
In particular, there is what we must regard as the odd attitude of the German Government to religious non-conformity. Today, several thousand members of the Church of Scientology demonstrated in Berlin against what they see as religious persecution by the German authorities.
They are not alone in believing themselves persecuted. In January this year, an advertisement appeared in the American newspaper press carrying the signatures of various Hollywood celebrities. There was Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn, Aaron Spelling, Oliver Stone, Mario Puzo, and Gore Vidal among 34 others—none, to my knowledge, Scientologists or even very religious. What they had signed was an open letter to Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, protesting at the behaviour of his Party and his Government towards the Church of Scientology. “In the Germany of the 1930s” they wrote, “Hitler made religious intolerance official government policy. In the 1930s, it was the Jews. Today, it is the Scientologists.” The authors continue—none, by the way is a Scientologist—with a plea for Herr Kohl to “bring an end to this shameful pattern of organised persecution”.
Perhaps we can ignore celebrities. So many of them embrace such bizarre causes that none of them can be reliably trusted on any matter external to their own careers. However, their claims are supported by the State Department in Washington. In its annual survey of human rights around the world, it lists Germany beside China, Cuba and Burma as a country in which human rights were abused in 1996. And the abused rights in question were those of German Scientologists – people against whom there was, according to the State Department, a “campaign of harassment and intimidation”. The German Government has also been criticised in a human rights report issued by a team of British scholars that includes Dr Dennis O’Keeffe, a devout Catholic, and Professor Antony Flew, an atheist and expert on David Hume.
I accept that comparisons with the holocaust are inappropriate. People have not yet been robbed of all they possess in Germany, nor stripped of their citizenship, nor herded into slave camps, nor murdered on a vast scale. Even so, not all is well in Germany. Look beneath the veneer of tolerance, and German society has neither understanding of nor patience with any but the established Catholic and Protestant churches. To some extent, Muslims and Buddhists are excluded from German national life, as are adherents of many other new and minority religions. But to be a Scientologist seems to be worst of all. To be one of these is to risk all sorts of official and officially-sponsored discrimination. In Bavaria, for example, firms run by Scientologist have been barred from tendering for public contracts. Applicants for jobs in the public sector must disclose their religious affiliation: if that turns out to be to the Church of Scientology, they are passed over. The Church has even been placed under surveillance by the Bavarian security services.
In the private sector, Scientologists are rejected by some banks when they try to open accounts. Scientologist-owned businesses have been vandalised. Individual Scientologists have received anonymous hate mail. Artists and performers known to be Scientologist have been blacklisted. Chick Corea, an American jazz pianist who is also a Scientologist, had to cut short his tour in Germany last year, because he was refused permission to play in certain venues. The youth wing of the Christian Social Union, the junior partner in the German Government, picketed performances of the film Mission Impossible because its star, Tom Cruise, is a well-known Scientologist.
Forcing People to be “Free”
What makes all this worse is the manner in which international condemnation has been brushed aside. When the Soviets filled their lunatic asylums with dissidents, they at least had the humanity to be ashamed. The German Government is simply angry and astonished. Herr Kohl has dismissed the criticism with a sneering attack on the ignorance of foreigners. Bernd Protzner, the General Secretary of the Christian Social Union, actually claims that “influential circles in the State Department have obviously fallen for Scientology’s hate campaign against Germany and have let themselves be used by the sect.”
Whatever their political background, prominent Germans make the same defence of the anti-Scientology Kulturkampf. The Constitution they gave themselves after the War obliges them to protect democracy and human rights. No one familiar with George Orwell will be surprised that this allows them to persecute any group officially deemed undemocratic. It is also justifies a strongly “positive” view of human rights. According to German Government spokesman Peter Hausmann, his country can be proud of its human rights record. It stands up well to any international comparison. “It is the obligation of all public bodies to protect the human dignity of its citizens” he explained. “That includes their physical and mental safety”. Any Nazi or Marxist would be proud of so clear a statement of the old “forcing people to be free” defence of tyranny.
The Pan-European Taste for Persecution
If this were a purely German oddity, it might not say much against the European project. The problem is that the Germans are not alone in their intolerance of religious dissent. The Greek Government takes it for granted that only communicants of the Orthodox Church can be real Greeks: All the others are potential traitors who need to be watched. The French, for all they have canonised Voltaire as their patron saint of tolerance, are little better. “I share the apprehensions of the Germans regarding these sects” their Foreign Minister, Hervé de Charette, said recently. He went out of his way to denounce the Hollywood open letter, and to express his government’s full support of Germany in its war against Scientology.
Now, Scientology is seen by many as a strange kind of religion. Outsiders do tend to regard its theological claims as unlikely. Then again, most religions seem strange to outsiders; and I do not find the stories about Thetans and Engrams any more inherently unlikely that I do stories about the parting of the Red Sea or the Resurrection of Christ. Indeed, what Scientologist theology I have read makes rather more sense to me than the Athanasian Creed. But questions of religious truth or falsehood are not the point. The point is that everyone ought to have the right to worship as their conscience demands. It is not for governments or anyone else to pick and choose among religions, tolerating some but not others. It is the duty of government to provide an impartial framework of laws within which life, liberty and property are respected.
Even here in Britain, there are calls for persecution. In The Evening Standard for last Thursday (23rd October 1997), there is a story on the front page—”Action call on London ‘Christ’ cult’—about how some Labour MP wants an official investigation into a religious movement called the London Church of Christ. Its offence, apparently, is that it recruits adults and persuades them to stop going out to night clubs, in favour of studying The Bible and recruiting others to do likewise.
To its credit, persecution has not so far been the policy of the British Government in religious matters. The Home Office recently accepted Scientology leaders as ministers of religion for immigration purposes. Inform, its approved consultant on new religious movements, has advised the Independent Television Commission to accept Scientologist public awareness films for showing on British television. The Church of Scientology has applied for charitable status. Whether or not this is granted, we can be sure that the Charities Commission will base its decision on objective criteria, and not on public or official hysteria. For the moment, we remain what we have long been—one of the great world centres of religious liberty.
To what extent would this change if our Maastricht opt-outs were replaced by a complete acceptance of European social policy? Would our churches also have to be registered with the authorities, as in much of Europe? Would some be favoured with grants and public acceptance? Would others be rejected and even persecuted under cover of concern about the public good? Looking at the balance of Continental opinion, the answer at the moment seems to be yes: our traditions of religious liberty would go the way of our ancient weights and measures, harmonised out of existence.
Important as they are, the debate over Europe is about more than economics. It is also about different views of the world. Ours, on the whole, is the right view. For myself, it is not a view I would surrender or endanger even if the economic arguments all pointed us towards closer integration.
It ought not be necessary for me to go on and say more. However, the usual statist response to criticism is to throw doubt on the critic’s motives. Logically, it is of no importance why I have written the above. But a regard for logic has never been part of the statist intellectual armoury. I therefore add the following disclaimers in advance:
1. I have not been paid to write this article.
2. I am not, nor ever have been, a member of the Church of Scientology.
© 1997 – 2017, seangabb.
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