Scientology Is Not a Religion
Germany treats L. Ron Hubbard’s movement as a cult and a threat to democracy. The U.S. should follow its example.
A 1972 directive from Hubbard titled “Governing policy,” cited by the German government in its position against the Church, clearly characterizes Scientology as a commercial enterprise. “MAKE MONEY. MAKE MONEY. MAKE MORE MONEY. MAKE OTHER PEOPLE PRODUCE SO AS TO MAKE MONEY,” Hubbard wrote. In 1967, the IRS revoked the Church’s tax-exempt status, a decision reasserted by each and every American court to which the Church brought challenges over a subsequent 25-year-period. A 1984 U.S. Tax Court ruling, for instance, found that the Church “made a business out of selling religion” and that Hubbard and his family had diverted millions of dollars to their personal accounts. The Los Angeles Superior Court, meanwhile, deemed Hubbard “a pathological liar” driven by “egotism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile.”
Desperate for legitimacy, in 1973 Scientology launched Operation Snow White—a covert operation aimed at infiltrating governments. Scientology agents broke into IRS headquarters, bugged its offices, and dispatched private investigators to spy on individual agents—all in hopes of blackmailing officials. All this was permitted under Scientology’s “Fair Game” doctrine, which, according to Hubbard, demands that Church critics “be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” The plot was uncovered in 1977, and Hubbard’s wife and 10 other Church officials were sentenced to jail. Hubbard was named an unindicted co-conspirator.
But in 1993, Scientology finally did achieve tax-exempt status from the IRS—a massive victory in the Church’s quest for mainstream acceptance. It did so, according to the New York Times, only “after an extraordinary campaign orchestrated by Scientology against the agency and people who work there” that included the hiring of “private investigators to dig into the private lives of I.R.S. officials and to conduct surveillance operations to uncover potential vulnerabilities.” Scientology even set up a front group, the National Coalition of IRS Whistle-blowers, to battle the agency. As if to emphasize the capriciousness of the IRS’s decision, just a year before the agency’s reversal, a decision by the U.S. Claims Court rejected Scientology’s case for tax-exemption, citing “the commercial character of much of Scientology,” its virtually incomprehensible financial procedures” and its “scripturally based hostility to taxation.”
Now that the U.S. government recognized Scientology as a religious faith, the Church could claim that the policies of foreign governments amount to religious discrimination. Four months after the IRS decision, the U.S. State Department released its 1994 annual human rights report, which included a paragraph critical of the German government’s measures against Scientology—the first of what would become many such complaints.
While Washington ended its official skepticism of Scientology, European governments grew harsher in their actions against the Church. France, Spain, and Italy raided Scientology centers throughout the 1980s. In 1997, a Greek judge ordered a Scientology center in Athens shut down for “medical, social and ethical practices that are dangerous and harmful,” and an Italian judge ordered 29 Scientologists to jail in 1997 for “criminal association.”
But in no country has Scientology captured the public imagination—and served as the hotbed for international controversy—more than in Germany. In the summer of 1996, the youth wing of the Christian Democratic Union (then and now Germany’s ruling conservative party) called for a boycott of Mission Impossible. At around the same time, stories began appearing in the American press airing allegations from German Scientologists that their children were being barred from certain kindergartens. A state-owned bank shut down accounts belonging to members of the Church, and the provincial government in conservative, Catholic Bavaria announced that it would require applicants for public-sector jobs to declare any connections they might have to the Church. By the middle of the decade, what Frank Rich referred to as “the great American religious saga of the 1990’s” erupted on the other side of the Atlantic, with both sides accusing the other of acting like Nazis.
Some German government actions against Scientology have been so earnest that it’s easy for skeptics to mock them as overcompensation for the country’s fascist past. In 2009, for instance, Berlin’s Charlottenberg-Wilmersdorf district government erected a giant poster of a stop sign outside the Church’s headquarters to “express its opposition to the activities of the Scientology sect in this district.” But judging by the writings and political sympathies of its founder, the allegation that Scientology is an authoritarian movement cannot be so easily dismissed.
In his 1951 book, the Science of Survival, Hubbard devised a system of “tones” to measure human emotions. “The sudden and abrupt deletion of all individuals occupying the lower bands of the tone scale from the social order would result in an almost instant rise in the cultural tone and would interrupt the dwindling spiral into which any society may have entered,” Hubbard wrote. “It is not necessary to produce a world of clears [the Scientology term for enlightened person] in order to have a reasonable and worthwhile social order; it is only necessary to delete those individuals who range from 2.0 down, either by processing them enough to get their tone level above the 2.0 line or simply quarantining them from the society.” Promulgating less-mangled formulations of this idea is banned in Germany and other European countries.
Hubbard was a supporter of the Greek military junta (calling the regime’s constitution “the most brilliant tradition of Greek democracy”) and South African apartheid (“not a police state”). The forced relocation of blacks to rural townships, Hubbard wrote in a letter to then-Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd, was “the most impressive and adequate resettlement activity in existence.” Hubbard suggested that his e-meters be used to interrogate anti-apartheid activists.
In 1966—in one of the strangest episodes in a very strange life—Hubbard spent some three months in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the white minority government’s Prime Minister Ian Smith, who had just unilaterally declared Rhodesia’s independence from the United Kingdom. Hubbard, who believed he had been Cecil Rhodes in a past life, strode around the country sporting the same style hat worn by the great imperialist and tried to present Smith with a new constitution he had written for the country. On its website describing the “worldview” of Scientology, the Baden-Württemberg branch of the BfV cites Hubbard’s use of the racist British expression “wog” to describe non-Scientologists, “a term thrown around liberally among Church staff,” according to Janet Reitman, author of the acclaimed new book Inside Scientology. The Church’s claim that psychiatrists were responsible for the Holocaust—an argument it brought to Germany with an outdoor traveling exhibit in the 1990s—is also something that rankles Germans, not to mention German Jews.
Ironically, the German government bases much of the strict policy toward Scientology upon rulings by U.S. courts. One of the three major U.S. legal findings that the German government cites in a long and detailed explanation of its policy is a 1994 California case, which stated that the Church’s activities took place in a “coercive environment.” The German government also cites a 1997 Illinois Supreme Court ruling regarding allegations that the Church’s vindictive and cynical legal strategy against the Cult Awareness Network, whereby it sued the organization—a support group for cult members and their families—into bankruptcy, assumed its name, and then operated it as a Scientology front. “Such a sustained onslaught of litigation can hardly be deemed ‘ordinary,’ if [the Network] can prove that the actions were brought without probable cause and with malice,” the court found.
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