By Warren Pagliaro
utrage over severe violations of human rights in Germany has been steadily increasing for at least five years in other countries around the world. In July, that outrage arrived in Germany. At a high-spirited protest march in Frankfurt, members of German Churches of Scientology were joined by leaders of other religions both within and outside the country, including Canada as well as scholars, human rights advocates, international celebrities and concerned individuals, more than 1,500 in all.
Professor Petro B.T. Bilaniuk, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Toronto, was in attendance and spoke to the marchers about the necessity of religious tolerance and freedom in a democratic system. He chastened the German government for its excesses in dealing with the Church of Scientology and its members.
There is no doubt that Scientologists in Germany have been denied their basic human rights by the German government. Political leaders are ignoring the overwhelming and compelling evidence that Scientology is a valid religion, he stated. He has called upon the Canadian government to start talks at the highest possible levels with German officials as representatives of the U.S. government have done.
Professor Bilaniuk is also a Mitrophoric Archpriest of the Ukranian Catholic Church and honorary Canon of the Archeparchy of Lviv. He studied for his Doctorate of Theology and Doctorate in Munich and has spent eleven years living in Germany.
Among those present to express support was Dr. Gabriele Yonan, noted religious scholar from the University of Berlin. One of an increasing number of German professionals who refuse to turn a blind eye to the truth, Dr. Yonan helped lead the march under the national flags of the 17 countries represented.
Germany is acting as if it were back in the Middle Ages, she told the crowd outside the Alte Oper opera house where the march ended. The reunified nation should be setting a shining example for Eastern Europe and Russia, she said, but, instead, the governments own actions are in violation of the Constitution.
Introducing a proposed Bill of Religious Rights, Dr. Yonan said the German government should apply its laws equally ... guaranteeing all citizens freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the right to practice the religion of their choice.
Other leading figures in the demonstration were internationally acclaimed actor and recording artist Isaac Hayes and jazz great Chick Corea. Hayes told the crowd how he had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s and was proud to again stand up for freedom and equality. If one group loses the right to religious freedom, it will be lost for all, he said. Hayes led the assembled group in singing the civil rights anthem, We Shall Overcome.
Actress Kelly Preston said, A society that is as evolved and innovative as Germany should be ashamed of this intolerant behavior.
For actress Anne Archer it was the second visit to Germany on this issue. Earlier this year she was invited by an American television crew to tour several German cities and examine the actual extent of the discrimination. The tour was eye-opening, she said. Even the television crew were shocked by what they found. The feature program was subsequently broadcast internationally.
Support poured in from around the world. Archer relayed the personal support of John Travolta. Hayes read a message from Kirstie Alley, who said government persecution of Scientologists and other religions in Germany has gone too far. Alley encouraged scholars and experts to continue to condemn human rights violations until the German government displays basic religious and civil rights for all citizens in Germany.
Actress Kelly Preston said, A society that is as evolved and innovative as Germany is should be ashamed of this intolerant behavior.
Also present at the demonstration were members of the oldest, largest and strongest civil rights organization in the United States, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). Led by Regional Director Ernestine Peters, the delegation attended the march as the first step in a fact-finding tour of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities in Germany.
The NAACP is dedicated to ending discrimination in any form through persistent use of legal and moral persuasion even in the face of overt and violent racial and ethnic hostility, said Peters. No one is safe in an undemocratic climate of hatred such as appears to exist in Germany today.
Peters told the audience that the delegation would produce a comprehensive report on their findings, including the extent of the German governments role in fomenting prejudice. This has since been presented to the NAACP National Office in Baltimore, Maryland.
Prominent American human rights advocate Ted Eagans told the audience he was traveling from Germany directly to human rights hearings at United Nations headquarters in Geneva. He said he had long been aware of the problem with discrimination in Germany, but after meeting with people from different religious and ethnic groups and gaining first-hand evidence of prejudice, he would ensure this was also known about in Geneva so it could be acted upon. A report compiled by Eagans, with the help of Professor Bilamiuk and other human rights and religious leaders who attended the Frankfurt march, was subsequently delivered to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the staff of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance.
Office for the Destruction of the Constitution?
One German authority who recently spoke out about discrimination and injustice against minorities in his country is Hans W. Alberts, Professor of Public Law at Hamburg University of Administration.
If we [Germans] want to defend against warnings from abroad, we would do so better if our constitutional values were observed, and if the observance of the latter were not merely asserted words. The danger of discrimination does exist, said Alberts.
But shortly after Alberts warning, Germanys constitutional values suffered their worst blow since the constitution was drafted after the war. On June 6, the German federal and state ministers of interior made the astounding announcement that Churches of Scientology and their members would be placed under national surveillance including phone taps, mail interception, infiltration by government agents, and other methods of espionage.
Even German politicians like Angelika Koester-Lossack of the German Green Party pointed out that [t]his is an authoritarian move, adding that it was simply state repression.
In fact, the same ministers admitted late last year that no concrete facts exist, there are still no facts, there is no evidence on record, and, no serious legal problems are known to support investigating the Church.
The growing criticism abroad was well expressed by a statement which appeared in a national American magazine in May this year.
Morton A. Kaplan, Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, commented that, although many in Germany may have learned from the past, When present-day officials of the ruling party refer to Scientologists as insects, destroy their jobs and businesses, and remain in office, it suggests, however, that the lesson has not been learned well enough.
Writing in the May 1997 issue of The World and I Magazine, of which he is the editor and publisher, Kaplan expressed disappointment rather than anger over the discrimination: I long supported and was delighted by the reunification of Germany. This ugly situation does dishonour to the new united Germany. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for whom otherwise I have had great respect, should be ashamed of himself for failing to move strongly against the proto-Nazis in his party who are willing to dehumanize others.
Following the multi-denominational protest march in Frankfurt, Rev. Leisa Goodman, Human Rights Director for the Church of Scientology International, said, This march was only the beginning. The government has gone too far. More and more German citizens have been outraged by intolerant statements by their own political leaders but have been afraid to speak out. Now they are speaking, and they wont stop until their government listens.