Germany’s approach to minority religions makes me very uncomfortable. Word that Tom Cruise would star as Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie caused a small scandal in Germany some time ago because of Cruise’s adherence to the religion of Scientology. The German government has taken particularly harsh steps against this minority religious group and initially made noise about not allowing filming at certain sites if Cruise depicted von Stauffenberg in the film.
Now, Valkyrie is in the theaters and it looks like it might be popular in Germany. The Timesonline reports that this is causing concern in Germany because the German government fears that it could somehow legitimate Scientology: “‘These Scientologists have two goals in Germany,’ said an official close to the BfV. ‘To get their message to children, and make their organisation respectable. The film does both: it has put a top Scientologist at the centre of a national debate about German history. That’s dangerous.’” This language is typical of government rhetoric about Scientology that has become commonplace in Germany’s prolonged campaign against this minority religion. The argument is that Scientology is an “antidemocratic organisation” that pursues “totalitarian goals”.
The Timesonline quotes the organ of the German government charged with monitoring terrorism and extremist groups, which also keeps an eye on Scientology, for an explanation: “‘Scientology shapes the political opinions of its members in a way that makes them hostile to the principles of the Constitution.’”
I have followed Germany’s campaign against the Scientologists for more than a decade with great puzzlement. Every development seems to bode ill not only for the those who have chosen to become Scientologists but also for adherents of other minority religions in Germany. Many Latter-day Saints in Germany are painfully aware that the government regularly scrutinizes their religion under the rubric of “so-called sects(“cults”) and psychogroups”. We are effectively lumped in with the Scientologists as a disfavored religious minority. It is chilling to consider what the German government would be doing to Mormons in Germany if Scientology and Jehova’s Witnesses weren’t currently preoccupying the government agencies charged with watching “new religious movements”.
In a free and democratic society, freedom of religion should be safeguarded. Germany’s actions with regard to new religious movements and particularly their relationship with the state and, more importantly, with the state churches, seem to violate the protections of conscience and religion guaranteed by both the German Basic Law (Constitution) (Article 4) and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (<a href=”Article 10).
Naturally, many people will not agree with the tenets of the Scientology religion. But most religions, including the state churches in Germany, could be described as “antidemocratic organizations” pursuing “totalitarian goals”. The German government goes to great lengths to substantiate why Scientology fits both of these descriptions but representatives of the state churches sit, in their official capacities, on the committees and boards that make such determinations. I am skeptical that similar time is devoted to consideration of the ways in which the Catholic Church or the official Protestant Church in Germany are in their own ways antidemocratic organizations. In what way, for example, is the belief held by each of those two organizations in the millennial day when Christ returns and reigns personally on the earth less of a pursuit of a totalitarian goal than other beliefs peculiar to Scientology? In terms of danger to society, Scientology has never provoked a war that killed an estimated 25% of Germany’s population — but the religion(s) that arose from the Protestant Reformation did in the Thirty Year’s War.