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The US government continues to fret over how other countries treat Scientology

[One legacy of Bill Clinton’s friendliness to Scientology — continued federal monitoring overseas]

Rod Keller has highlights for us today from the annual State Department report on how Scientology is being treated around the world. After his notes, we have our own comment about this law and its connection to the Clinton White House.

The U.S. State Department released the 2017 Report on International Religious Freedom this week, as required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The report pulls together reports from embassy officials, religious groups, and NGOs from around the world to provide an overview of religious freedom. The Office of International Religious Freedom compiles the reports under the direction of the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a post currently held by former Congressman, Senator, and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback.

Despite recent events regarding Scientology in Russia and Hungary, the report under Brownback contains less mentions of the church than under the previous Ambassador, David Saperstein. For example, the report on Germany contained three mentions of Scientology in 2016 and four in 2017. The 2011 report contained 14 mentions of Scientology. Let’s take a look at how the State Department sees Scientology’s situation around the world.

 
Austria

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Embassy representatives met regularly with government officials to discuss religious groups’ concerns about issues of freedom of religion and religious intolerance and the integration of religious minorities, including with officials from the Departments of Integration and Dialogue of Cultures within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with the Ministry of Interior. Topics included measures to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. They also met with religious group representatives, such as the leadership of the Islamic Faith Community (IGGIO), the IKG, the Roman Catholic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Church of Scientology, to discuss their relations with the government.

The Church of Scientology and a number of smaller religious groups, such as Sahaja Yoga and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, have status as associations.

Police continued to protect Jewish sites. Muslims said the ban on face veils in public violated basic rights. The city government in Vienna increased inspections of city-subsidized Islamic kindergartens after a study found “Islamic political influence” in several of them. A federally funded office continued to offer the public negative views about religious groups, such as Scientology, which it described as “cults.”

A counseling center in Vienna managed by the Society against Sect and Cult Dangers, an NGO working against some religious groups, such as Scientology, continued to distribute information to schools and the general public, and it provided counseling for former members of such groups. According to the website of the society’s founder, Friedrich Griess, the society received funding from the government of Lower Austria. Several other provinces funded family and youth counseling offices that provided information on “sects and cults,” which members of some minority religious groups, such as Scientologists or the Unification Church, stated they considered to be negatively biased.

 

[Vienna Org]

Scientology is tiny in Austria, with one org and two missions.

 
Denmark

Groups not recognized by either royal decree or a government registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices without any kind of public registration, but members of those groups must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted fully tax-exempt status, but they have some tax benefits; for example, contributions by members are tax-deductible.

 

 
Scientology activity in Denmark is primarily Russians doing their OT levels at the Advanced Org in Copenhagen.

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France

The Buddhist Union of France estimates there are one million Buddhists in the country, mainly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants. Other religious groups estimate their numbers as follows: Jehovah’s Witnesses, 120,000; Orthodox Christians, most of whom are associated with the Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches, 80,000-100,000; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 66,000; Church of Scientology, 45,000; and Sikhs, who are largely concentrated in the Parisian suburbs, 30,000.

 

[The Nice Mission is typical of Scientology in France. There are no ideal orgs in this country.]

 
Germany

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups, and authorities shut down a Berlin mosque for what they said were its links to terrorism. Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members. Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, particularly for teachers and courtroom officials.

According to reports from the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) — the domestic intelligence service — and state OPCs and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution. According to the OPC’s 2016 report, “Scientology aspires to a society without general and fair elections and rejects the democratic legal system.” At least four major political parties (the CDU, the Christian Social Union (CSU), the SDP, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP)) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.

The COS continued to report governmental discrimination. “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.

According to a COS spokesperson, in the summer a preschool/kindergarten in Munich dismissed a nurse who was a member of the COS after the city government announced it would cut the kindergarten’s public funding due to the employee. The COS reported the House of Art, a public art museum in downtown Munich, dismissed a long-time employee in March after his COS membership became publicly known. The COS reported the former employee filed a complaint at the Munich labor court. Information on the status of the case was unavailable at year’s end. The media reported the House of Art began using sect filters for new employees in April.

The COS said firms owned or operated by its members also suffered discrimination. According to the COS, some of its members who suffered discrimination refrained from taking legal action because they felt a trial would be time-consuming and because they feared being stigmatized and losing business contracts.

The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose COS publicly. “Sect commissioners” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects and cults” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups. EKD “sect commissioners” warned the public about what they said were the dangers posed by the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, and Universal Life. “Sect commissioners” continued to produce print and internet literature portraying these groups unfavorably.

 

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[The Haus der Kunst in Munich, site of the firing of a Scientologist personnel manager is surrounded by trees in an attempt to mask this example of Nazi-era architecture.]

 
Hungary

The Fundamental Law (constitution) provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief, and to manifest religion or belief through religious acts, ceremonies, or other means; the constitution’s preamble states the nation recognizes “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood” and values the country’s “various religious traditions.” It prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community. The constitution stipulates separation of religious communities and state and the autonomy of religious communities. According to law, the incorporation of religious groups, which provides for financial benefits and government support, requires the approval of two thirds of parliament. Parliament again did not vote on pending applications for incorporation status by religious groups, in violation of its own legal procedures and despite a finding by the Constitutional Court that the body’s failure to vote was unconstitutional. In July the Constitutional Court ruled parliament must amend the law to allow individuals to donate the same proportion of their taxes to unincorporated religious groups as to incorporated ones; parliament had not done so by year’s end. The government launched a criminal investigation of the Church of Scientology (COS) and again barred it from moving into new headquarters.

By year’s end parliament had not amended the law as mandated by the Constitutional Court in July to allow individuals to donate a portion of their taxes to religious organizations in the same way they could to incorporated churches. The government paid a fine to a religious group as ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as compensation for losses incurred by the government’s revocation of the group’s status as an incorporated church. Parliament also did not vote on any of 14 pending applications by religious groups previously found eligible for incorporation, despite a legal obligation to do so. The government launched a criminal investigation of the COS and denied for a second time permission for the group to move into headquarters in Budapest.

In December 2016, the government’s Data Protection Authority (DPA) launched a data protection investigation of the COS. According to the COS, the DPA seized various documents and files from its offices in Budapest and Nyiregyhaza, including “preclear folders” (PCs) containing what the COS called confidential communications between penitents and their minister. The COS stated the seizure of the PCs constituted a violation of privacy and of members’ right to freedom of religion. In the same month the Church filed a legal complaint contesting the seizures, and individual COS members filed complaints with the ombudsman. On October 17, the DPA issued a report which, according to the COS, portrayed the Church’s spiritual practices as mind manipulation, a portrayal which the COS denied.

According to the COS, the DPA then filed a complaint against the Church, alleging criminal abuse of personal data, and turned over its seized materials to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). On October 18, 60 NBI agents raided the COS headquarters in Budapest, seizing documents and sealing off the building. On October 19, the criminal section of the tax office, investigating possible financial crimes, executed search warrants and seized documents at COS offices in Budapest and 15 other locations. According to the COS, the authorities also froze the Church’s bank accounts and placed a lien on its Budapest headquarters. The Church’s spokesperson called the search “religious suppression under the guise of data protection.” State authorities said their actions stemmed from concerns with methods of personal information collection and storage, and not from the COS’s religious views. The COS said Church members demonstrated in front of the DPA, the tax office, and parliament following the raid. The government did not recognize the COS as an incorporated church but had approved its registration as a religious organization.

In January the government denied for the second time a COS application for a certificate of occupancy for its headquarters and place of worship in Budapest. The government had denied the first application in May 2016 and subsequently issued an order requiring the COS to vacate the building. In January the COS challenged the denial of the certificate of occupancy in the Administrative and Labor Court of Budapest and requested a stay of the order to vacate the site. On October 12, the court denied the request for a stay of the order. The Church appealed the denial, and the appeal was pending at year’s end. COS lawyers said they believed the city of Budapest was acting “in bad faith” and that the Church remained gravely concerned the city could take away its headquarters and place of worship.

On December 9, Scientologists protested in Budapest in support of religious freedom for Scientology and other faiths and to protest the law on religion that deregistered hundreds of religious groups, including the Church of Scientology. Local press estimated the number of protesters at approximately 100, while the COS said more than 1,500 persons participated. “We have come to a crossroad for religious freedom in Hungary,” said Attila Miklovicz, Director of Public Affairs of the COS Budapest. Another Scientologist, Timea Vojtilla, stated, “We want the government to ensure true religious freedom, and not let certain agencies hinder the free exercise of our religion.” The demonstration ended with the reading of the Creed of the Church of Scientology.

 

[Freedom Medal winners led a protest by Scientologists in Budapest in December, 2017]

 
Kazakhstan

The Church of Scientology continued to function as a registered public association rather than as a religious organization. The government allowed the church, as a public association, to maintain resource centers/libraries where members may read or borrow books and host discussions or meetings, but did not allow the church to engage in religious activity.

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Government-controlled media continued to depict “nontraditional” religions as disruptive to society. In April and May, several national TV broadcasts ran thematic programs on “destructive sects,” among them Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists. In an April 30 “Portrait of the Week” program hosted by Artur Platonov on private broadcaster KTK, a segment from then-acting CRA chairman Bakhytzhan Kulekeyev discussed an alleged “26 complaints against Jehovah’s Witnesses” received by the CRA from ordinary concerned citizens. In an April 30 “Analytics” news show on 1st Channel “Eurasia,” the program addressed multiple complaints the CRA allegedly received from citizens about Jehovah’s Witnesses. A May 12 talk show on “Eurasia” devoted 40 minutes to “destructive sects,” concentrating mainly on “destructive Islamic movements” and Scientology. Another May 12 talk show on “Khabar” included a similar 40-minute program concentrating on Jehovah’s Witnesses, in which Yulia Denisenko, the head of the government-affiliated Association of Centers for Religious Studies, made a number of accusations against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

[Dr. Mary Shuttleworth, Executive Director of the Scientology front group Youth for Human Rights in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2015]

 
Macedonia

In May Basic Court Skopje II approved the registration of the Church of Scientology of Macedonia, and the Home of Prayer religious group. Applications from the Christian Community in Macedonia and the Community of Muslims remained pending.

 

[Staff of Narconon Balkan in Konopište, Macedonia]

 
Russia

In June 2016 the Russian Supreme Court upheld a 2014 order liquidating the Moscow branch of the Church of Scientology (COS) on the grounds it did not qualify as a religious organization.

According to COS representatives and media, on December 4, the Nevskiy District Court extended the pretrial detention of five COS leaders in St. Petersburg to March 2018. Authorities arrested the five on June 6, when security services raided the St. Petersburg COS branch and homes of its leaders as part of a probe into what they said was possible “illegal entrepreneurship” (i.e., selling religious books), extremism, and incitement of hatred; these charges were punishable by six to 10 years’ imprisonment. Police arrested, interrogated, and detained the Church employees, four of whom received two months’ pretrial detention; the fifth was put under house arrest. On October 19, the court changed the pretrial detention conditions to house arrest for two of the individuals. The prosecution appealed the ruling for house arrest for one of them, Sahib Aliyev, and on November 22, he was taken back to prison. At year’s end, the executive director of the religious group, Ivan Matsitsky, and Aliyev remained in prison.

The COS petitioned the ECHR following the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision upholding a 2014 order liquidating its Moscow branch on the grounds it did not qualify as a religious organization. The case before the ECHR was pending at the end of the year.

 

[Police raid the St. Petersburg org in 2016]

 
Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

Recognized religious communities are exempt from taxation of places of worship and may have separate courts to apply their religion’s personal status law. Some nonrecognized religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, receive a property tax exemption on their houses of worship, although others, such as Buddhism and Scientology, do not. The government has stated that tax collection from nonrecognized religions is conducted by local authorities in accordance with the law, but has not stated why some nonrecognized religions receive a property tax exemption and others do not. While members of recognized religious communities only require approval for resident visas from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visas for members of nonrecognized religious communities also require MOI approval for stays longer than five years.

 

[Staff member at the Tel-Aviv Ideal Org]

 
South Africa

U.S. embassy representatives met with religious leaders and NGOs, including individuals from the Muslim Judicial Council, Islamic Council of South Africa, the Church of Scientology, the Inner Circle (a Muslim lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex organization), Hindu Maha Sabha, and the SAJBD to discuss the environment for religious freedom and concern over cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

 

[L. Ron Hubbard house in Johannesburg]

 
Spain

In September Director General of the European Office of the Church of Scientology Ivan Arjona Pelado presented religious freedom awards to academics involved with human rights. The main topic of discussion at the ceremony was the right to freedom of belief and respect for the beliefs of others. Pelado emphasized the need to combat intolerance among different religious groups and the responsibility of the international community to promote religious coexistence. Government representatives from the MOJ and Foundation attended.

 

[Ivan Arjona Pelado (far right) at a religious freedom workshop in April, 2018 at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid]

 
— Rod Keller

 
Thank you, Rod. This monitoring of Scientology’s affairs overseas is a legacy of Bill Clinton’s cozy relationship with the church. Clinton’s State Department went to bat for Scientology in Germany when that country was taking steps to combat Scientology’s totalitarian nature, and even today, under this law passed while Clinton was president, the federal government keeps an eye on how Scientology is being treated around the world. As you point out, the report today makes fewer mentions of the church than it has in past years, but there’s still the implication that foreign governments are on notice that how they deal with Scientology is watched by the US government as an issue of “religious freedom” rather than, say, an investigation of criminal abuses.

This monitoring by the State Department doesn’t prevent other federal agencies, like the FBI or IRS, from investigating Scientology in this country. But it sets a tone for the government as a whole that the rest of the world does not miss — mess with Scientology, and the US government takes note.

Also, forty-five thousand Scientologists in France? As if. The real number is probably closer to 400.

 
— Tony Ortega

 
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Make your plans now!

HOWDYCON UPDATE

Hey, we’re just a couple of weeks away from this year’s HowdyCon in Chicago, June 21-23. As in past years, we’re looking forward to meeting readers of the Bunker, culminating in Saturday night’s main event.

The biggest difference this year is that our Saturday night event is separate from that evening’s dinner. Chee Chalker is setting up an inexpensive pizza dinner that you don’t need to pay for ahead of time, after which we’ll walk over to the theater where our event, hosted by Chicago Fire star Christian Stolte, will take place. Because it’s a separate event, we’re asking that you pay $10 each to get into the Saturday night event, which will help us recoup what the Bunker paid for the venue. (We have never made a penny on our HowdyCon meetups, we only try to break even.)

Please email your proprietor (tonyo94 AT gmail) in order to reserve your spot for Saturday night’s main event. Seating is limited, and we’re going to have some really interesting people on stage and they may make a few announcements that you don’t want to miss.

 

 
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Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,134 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,737 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 280 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 168 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,343 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,117 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,891 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,237 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 10,803 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,471 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,731 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,771 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,483 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,009 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,098 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,238 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,558 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,533 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 889 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,191 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,297 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,700 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,572 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,154 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,659 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,903 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,012 days.

——————–

3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on June 3, 2018 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news

 

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