International News in Brief
An objective examination of the Scientology religion clearly shows it warrants the same treatment the government affords other religious institutions: such was the conclusion of the third senate of the Amsterdam court in a unanimous ruling of 25 January 2002 granting tax exemption for parishioner donations.
It was the court’s task to adjudicate whether the Church of Scientology Amsterdam fit the criteria of a non-profit organization, according to the Dutch income laws and high court rulings. After intensive study of the status, writings and activities of the Church, the judges answered this question in the affirmative.
According to their ruling, the case record proved that the Church of Scientology is an organization working for the general benefit of the society. They also concluded that the intention of the Church of Scientology to disseminate its religion is in confirmation with its corporate status.
The judges stressed that any intention to differentiate newer religions and older ones for the purpose of determining qualifications for religious status has no legal basis. Their judgment aligned with the conclusions of numerous courts and tax agencies in other countries.
The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany set a new precedent on 30 July 2002 by prohibiting discriminatory propaganda against religious and philosophical movements on the part of government officials.
The decision, which concerned negative propaganda statements about two minority religious/philosophical movements in the country — the “Osho” movement (earlier known as Bhagwan) and Transcendental Meditation — favourably concluded legal battles ongoing since 1990 and 1989, respectively.
Overruling lower courts, the Constitutional Court found that government pronouncements labelling these groups “destructive cult” and “pseudo-religion” and being involved in “manipulation of members” were without sufficient basis in fact, went beyond the limitations of allowable government criticism, and acted as interference with the guarantees of religious freedom.
The court found that the government “has to observe the constitutional demand of neutrality of the state in religious-philosophical matters” and that defamatory, discriminatory or misleading statements or presentations about a religious or philosophical community are prohibited for the state.
Ordered to Respect Religious Freedom
In a ruling of 12 July 2002, the Administrative Appeal Court of Hamburg, Germany stressed that the Church of Scientology is to be afforded the rights and protections enshrined in the religious freedom provisions of Article 4 of the German Constitution.
The decision came after the Church appealed a Hamburg court decision refusing the Church a special use permit to erect a tent on city property for an information display of its international volunteer programme.
The appeal court recognized that the Church is to be treated as a religious organization under Article 4 of the constitution, which guarantees religious freedom. It ruled that the City must give permits to such groups as Scientology as it has a right to inform others about its beliefs.
Courts throughout Germany have repeatedly upheld the religious status and rights of Churches of Scientology, after reviewing all facts — despite extremist political discrimination that has repeatedly put the country under the spotlight of the international human rights community.
Delivering a blow to government discrimination against religions in France, two administrative courts have declared that a 1996 parliamentary report blacklisting more than 170 minority religions and philosophical groups as “sects” is devoid of any legal value.
One of thousands of discriminatory acts resulting from the blacklist was the refusal of the city of Lorient to rent any location to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing the derogatory parliamentary report.
On 21 February 2002 the Administrative Court of Rennes ordered Lorient to rent a public hall to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, finding that the city’s refusal, “founded on a parliamentary report lacking normative value, is manifestly illegal” and “a grave restriction to the freedoms of assembly and association.”
On 30 May 2002 the Administrative Court of Poitiers cancelled a decision by the city La Rochelle to refuse a communal hall for local meetings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The city’s refusal, like that of Lorient, was attributed to the 1996 parliamentary report. The Administrative Court declared that “This report, which lacks legal value, cannot serve as the legal foundation” for the city’s decision.
Judge Denies Political Case for Lack of Evidence
On 26 July 2002, a Paris judge barred a 13-year-old, politically motivated case against the Church of Scientology from going to trial, finding that no evidence was established to sustain the legal action.
The case, opened in 1989 after a single complaint from an apostate, was kept open well beyond the statute of limitations despite no evidence. After investigation yielded no results, extremist political sources launched an ill-founded attack on the professional credibility of judge Marie-Paule Moracchini — later found not to have mishandled the case. The judge who replaced Moracchini, Colette Bismuth-Sauron, finally rejected the case on 26 July due to lack of progress.
“There was never any evidence to find. The case was politically motivated from the start,” said a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology in France. “We look forward to dedicating more of our attention and resources to our community and social betterment programmes.”