Religion and Spirituality

Church of Scientology France, scientology France
Chris Weeks/AP
Disguised members of an internet-based group called Anonymous protest near buildings
associated with the Church of Scientology.

Church of Scientology Goes to Trial in France for ‘Organized Fraud’

September 09, 2008 05:22 PM
by Josh Katz
The Church of Scientology faces a possible national ban in a civil case that highlights the tension surrounding the organization in France and Germany.

Scientology Under Fire in France

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A woman is suing the Church of Scientology in France for “organized fraud.” Olivier Morice, the plaintiff’s lawyer in the case, said the trial could start by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009. If the Church loses the case, France could potentially close down the Church’s activities in the country, the BBC reports.

Both France and Germany have resisted the efforts of the Church, refusing to consider it a religion and keeping close tabs on its activities. Some countries have alleged that the Church functions like a cult and financially exploits its members.

In 2000, a government committee in France called for the Church of Scientology to be dissolved, calling it a dangerous organization. In a report, the committee “described the church as a totalitarian sect that kept files containing personal information on its members,” and said that it “violated human dignity,” according to a BBC article from February 2000.

The woman in the recent French case claims that the organization convinced her to take a personality test in 1998, and she ultimately ended up giving the Church more than 20,000 euros (about $28,500) for “courses, books, illegally prescribed drugs and an ‘electrometer’ supposed to measure fluctuations in her mental state,” according to the BBC.

Background: Scientology abroad; organization contentious in Germany

In September 2007, the European Court of Human Rights said that the Church is “entitled to the rights and protections of religious freedom that flow to religious organizations pursuant to Article 9 of the European Human Rights Convention,” according to a statement made by the Church on CNN. Spain officially recognized the Church of Scientology as a religion in October 2007, and in November of that year, Portugal took the same step.   

Germany and the Church of Scientology have been caught in a battle for years now. In 1995, the country stripped Scientology of religion status when a judge called it a group “masquerading as a religion in order to make a profit.” In 1997, state-level interior ministers stated in a report that, “the Scientology organization, agenda and activities are marked by objectives that are fundamentally and permanently directed at abolishing the free democratic basic order.” However, they could not “conclusively evaluate” the group at the time, Time magazine reports.

In 2004, a German judge ruled that state intelligence agencies could engage in surveillance against the Scientologists because they “were a threat to German constitutional protections, and in particular the right of Germans to exercise their political will, the right to equal treatment, and guarantees against bodily harm,” according to Time. The judge also accused the Church of brainwashing.

Tension might be running high now, however, because the organization has become more visible in the country. Although there are merely 6,000 members of the Church in the country, the organization opened a new headquarters in Berlin in January 2007.

Scientology also gained public attention during the summer 2007 filming of a movie called “Valkyrie.” Tom Cruise stars as German hero Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, who was executed during World War II after attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Many Germans protested Tom Cruise in the role because of his membership in the Church of Scientology, and government officials tried to prevent the filmmakers from shooting in public German buildings. Social Democratic lawmaker Klaus Uwe Benneter commented on the choice of Cruise: “This is a slap in the face to all upstanding democrats, all resistance fighters during the Third Reich, and all victims of the Scientology sect.”

Officials in Hamburg are currently trying to ban Scientology throughout Germany and have the government implement “restrictions similar to those that apply to several neo-Nazi organizations,” Time reports.

In February 2008, German authorities in Munich shut down a kindergarten because Scientologists ran it. In a statement, the municipality said, “The wellbeing of the children in the establishment was under threat because the education process was based on the principles of Scientology,” Agence France-Press reported.

Related Topic: Scientology videos pulled from YouTube

Recently, a group called the American Rights Counsel sent more than 4,000 notices to YouTube to remove Scientology videos found on the Web site, citing copyright infringement. Videos included anti-Scientology protests by the group “Anonymous” and court hearings on the religion. Many YouTube users complained that this was “abuse,” according to Ars Technica. “It appears that most of the pulled content has been reinstated already after the various uploaders filed DMCA counter-notices asserting that the videos in question did not infringe copyright.”

Anonymous is also expected to protest the Church during the premier of Katie Holmes’s new Broadway show next month. Holmes is married to Tom Cruise.

Reference: Scientology

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