Scientology Rally in Germany Sparsely Attended

Source: New York Times
Date: October 28, 1997

The Scientology movement, which the authorities here call mercenary and undemocratic, staged a demonstration through the heart of Berlin today intended to depict modern Germany as being just as intolerant toward Scientology as Hitler was toward Jews.

But while the organizers had forecast a turnout of 10,000, fewer than 2,000 people gathered to march on a bright, chilly day and hear protest leaders urge Germany to acknowledge Scientology as a religion and permit it to enjoy the benefits of that status. By the time the march finished, the police said the total number of demonstrators was 3,000. The organizers put the figure at 6,700.

The crowd chanted "Religious freedom now!" as the march got under way. Andrich Schaapers, identified by fellow Scientologists as a Dutch Scientologist living in California, led them in singing songs like "We Shall Overcome."

The rally organizers broadcast what they said was a video message from the actor John Travolta, one of the most prominent American Scientologists, saying the organization was persecuted in Germany.

Some commentators here said the protest demonstration was aimed not so much at Germans as at the United States, with the organizers hoping that television footage would bolster the assertion in an annual State Department report this year that Germany's attitude toward Scientology infringes human rights.

The turnout, and the response by German officials, reflected many of the ambiguities surrounding Scientology in Germany. While its followers claim a membership in Germany of some 30,000, German officials put the number at 10,000.

Still, the organization is treated as a national peril, reflecting what Bernhard Potter, a journalist specializing in religious groups, called "the lack of self-confidence in the civil society towards the completely exaggerated danger presented by Scientology."

"We find ourselves confronting an efficient business enterprise that has taken as its maxim the unbridled lust for profit and that proceeds accordingly," the Berlin Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a watchdog against extremism, said recently. "All the religious embellishment and pseudo-spirituality serve only to disguise these maneuvers."

The paradoxes reach back into a history of religious intolerance by Germany's established Christian churches and culminating in the Nazi dictatorship. But, German officials insist, it is because modern Germany is so aware of how intolerance took root in its past that it takes such exception to Scientology's clamor for recognition as a religion.

Major political parties ban Scientologists from their ranks. Well-known American Scientologists, like the pianist Chick Corea and the actor Tom Cruise, have been boycotted. Earlier this year, 34 Hollywood figures signed an open letter to Chancellor Helmut Kohl urging him to end what Scientologists call discrimination against their members.