German Official Calls for Security Surveillance of Scientologists

Source: New York Times
Date: January 11, 1996

In the long-running duel between the German authorities and the Church of Scientology, a senior Government official urged today that it be placed under surveillance by the same internal security agency that tracks terrorists and political extremists.

The official, Claudia Nolte, the Minister for Family Policy, described the church as "one of the most aggressive groups in our society" and said she would "oppose the Scientology organization with all the means at my disposal."

The Church of Scientology was founded by the American science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954 and is based in Los Angeles. German authorities have long sought to strip the church of Constitution protections it receives as a religion in this country. One state, Bavaria, is considering banning it outright while Germany's leading political parties, fearing infiltration, bar their members from becoming Scientologists. Some German officials say the organization, which surfaced here around 1970, seeks worldwide dominance.

According to its literature, Scientology's aim is "to bring an individual to an understanding of himself and his life as a spiritual being." Global membership is variously estimated at 50,000 to eight million.

The Government maintains that the church is no more than an unscrupulous commercial concern, but its supporters see a deeper collision between Scientologists and a form of religious discrimination they compare to the anti-Semitic practices of Nazi Germany.

Sabine Weber, a spokeswoman for the Scientology organization in Hamburg, said: "The accusation of seeking world dominance has been made against new and aspiring movements for centuries, and was misused particularly in the Third Reich to persecute people of different opinions. The methods are comparable to those that were used in the early 1930's."

While the church has reported a relatively small membership of 30,000 in Germany, its activities have elicited a tough response from the authorities, leading to legal battles over whether it is a religious organization or simply a front for money-making.

"Under the cloak of a religious community hides an organization which unscrupulously and unabashedly engages in dubious activities and whose ideology bears totalitarian characteristics," Mrs. Nolte said at a news conference to introduce a pamphlet warning Germans to avoid the church.

She said it would be "very sensible" for the domestic intelligence agency to place the organization under surveillance to glean "better information about the inner workings of the organization."

The authorities have thus far shied from placing the church under surveillance by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the domestic intelligence agency, which usually monitors political extremism. Last December, the interior ministers of the 16 German states failed to agree on such measures after the federal Interior Minister, Manfred Kanther, registered legal concerns about the idea. Aides to Mrs. Nolte said surveillance could only be ordered against organizations with anti-constitutional political aims.

Were it to come under surveillance, the organization would be subject under German law to such intelligence-gathering techniques as phone-taps, postal intercepts and the clandestine observation of its members.