P r e s s R e l e a s e of Six German Professors before the Publication of the German Report on Cults
Posted by CESNUR (see the original German version)
28th May 1998
An open society needs no ideological controls.
In an open society, the state is not a remedial aid institute in matters of emancipation. It cannot attempt to relieve citizens of all risks in life for the sake of their freedom. On the other hand, zealous individuals are tending towards excesses of regulation and gravitating towards a world view of Good versus Evil. In order to avoid allowing room for underhand character-assassination campaigns, espionage into people's convictions and world view/ethical repression, a high degree of tolerance, sensitivity and caution - as well as strict adherence to legal principals - is necessary when it comes to passing judgement on other people. Social and career demands are causing more and more people to reach out for further education opportunities with a view to achieving "stability under stress", "the ability to overcome conflict" and "achievement of maximum performance". People looking for alternative meanings in life join one of the new religious communities because they perceive their messages of salvation as being more helpful and productive for their lives than what is on offer from the traditional religions. It is inevitable that charlatans are seeking and finding opportunities in both areas. For this reason it may well be that a new Act of Parliament is necessary in order to secure consumers' rights to protection. It is indeed true to say that man can drive himself into the ground by demanding too much of himself or by searching for religious salvation. And indeed he can also even be damaged by tendencies to demand too little, by traditional educational objectives and by established religions. To this extent, all those offering secular help along with the religious representatives find themselves in basically the same situation.
In Spring 1996, the German Parliament set up an Enquiry Commission into "so-called sects and psycho-cults" [i.e., sect-like organisations with psychological instead of religious aims]. The membership of this Commission, its interim report published in Summer 1997 and the circumstances accompanying its work give grounds to fear that the final report which is scheduled for June 1998 will cause considerable damage to the Federal Republic of Germany. We appeal to those responsible not to permit the variously voiced impression of our European and American friends to be confirmed, namely that the German State is once more taking part in the defamation of and discrimination against religious and ideological minorities.
1. Included among the expert members of the Enquiry Commission are sect-watchers and ideological officers from both the state churches but not experts in the field of other religious and ideological communities, and no representatives of the heavily criticised free self-development market and management training. The sect officers of the State Protestant Church now have the opportunity to pronounce judgement over those who are in ideological competition with them and whom they have been confronting for years in the German courts. Unfortunately, there appears to be double grounds for suspecting prejudice on the part of one element of the Enquiry Commission's membership: they are agents on behalf of competing religious communities and have for years been involved in legal proceedings and disputes with the very people on whose activity they are now to pronounce judgement.
2. The sect-watchers and ideological officers from both State Churches have formed a church-based shadow commission which, whenever required, prepares and influences - in advance or in retrospect - the subject discussed in the official German Parliament Enquiry Commission either before or after the meetings. Members of the official Geman Parliament Enquiry Commission are collaborating in this "church working group to accompany the Enquiry Commission". This constellation impacts upon the independence of the Parliamentary Commission. It again reinforces the influence of the large churches and institutionalises the "hierarchy structure" of religions which has no place in an ideologically neutral State. There should be no such thing in the eyes of the State as "better" and "worse" religions.
3. The work of the Enquiry Commission is surrounded by journalists who, for moral and/or material reasons, have specialised in the persecution of sects and psycho-cults. They are claiming in German courts to have been given reports by members of the Enquiry Commission regarding witnesses' statements made in in-camera sittings of the Enquiry Commission. The Chairman of the Enquiry Commission sees no possibility of punishing indiscretions on the part of the body. Presumably it would also be quite contrary to better judgement to insist on strict observance of confidentiality. Quite the contrary - the Enquiry Commission is not giving the defendants the opportunity of making a statement to this body. In contrast to the journalists sitting in the smoke-filled rooms of the Commission, the accused have not even heard that there is a case against them let alone in which manner that case is being put.
4. Albeit the Enquiry Commission's interim report gives an assurance that the business is all about clarification and precise definition of claims made against the groups. However, unsubstantiated suspicions which have made their way through into the public eye together with their propagation, vulgarisation and generalisation have effects vis-à-vis the social service-providers which are bad for business and lead to small religious groupings being seen as despicable. Such effects are unacceptable.
5. Where the organisations in question bring in legal, psychological/psychiatric, sociological or theological specialist reports compiled by independent experts, their conclusions are mostly ignored and the experts marginalised because they are viewed as being prejudiced. In this way, the affected parties' own attempts at giving an account of their work methods and practices are going unheeded.
6. The Enquiry Commissions of the German Parliament have been able to demonstrate a long tradition and conclusions which have received much praise. This was the case also when they - contrary to applicable Parliamentary law - did not just acquire legally relevant information and make recommendations for action, but in addition received a remit for research, opinions and analyses. The history of Enquiry Commissions and the extension of their remits represent a great obligation. The resolution of the German Parliament, dated 9th May 1996, to convene the Enquiry Commission on "so-called sects and psycho-cults" also issued a remit which goes far beyond the legal framework. It aims to "gather, categorise and process information regarding recent religious and ideological movements and to analyse the social background of their rise and expansion". Unfortunately it is claimed right from the very outset that risks and dangers emanate from the "so-called sects and psycho-cults", instead of asking whether - and indeed which - risks and dangers emanate from which groups and what facts caused this to be the case.
7. Because the Enquiry Commission's remit does not relate to illegal acts but rather to the broad subject area of "new religious and ideological movements" the body believes it is empowered to extend this remit further and further. The interim report says that, "the spectrum of the groupings today comprises offerings which attempt to make sense out of life and offer messages of salvation of a religious, ideological, philosophical, political, psychological and educational nature." Even separate groups of people on the periphery of church activity who "show the influences of Pentecostalism, the Charismatic movement and orientation towards the end-times" are the subject of the Commission's work. According to the Enquiry Commission's interim report, the problem with such groups is not that they have committed any illegal acts but rather that their members are deemed to be in a position to come "into conflict" with their environment. The Commission states, "assessing ... the positions of conflict is a key task of the Enquiry Commission". It appears unconcerned with the fact the "conflicts" arise often enough. When the "unenlightened" parties who are on the receiving end of character-damaging media campaigns resort to the courts to defend themselves against defamation of character, the plaintiffs are generally not taking any risks. Indeed, the legal costs incurred by the sect-watching officers are drawn from the proceeds of church taxes. Dedicated attorney's offices check through the campaign texts so that they can just about pass the tests of freedom of opinion and freedom of the press.
8. The Enquiry Commission's interim report bears witness to the ideological and sociological predisposition of certain of its authors. If sects are to be viewed as socio-religious types of organisations, a proportion of the members of the Enquiry Commission would have to declare a personal interest themselves because they themselves are members of "sects" when judged by these criteria. Nevertheless, those representing the political environmental group "Federation 90 / The Greens" in this body have kept a cool head and held fast to their tradition of civil liberties. Their particular addendum to the interim report emphasises, "... that the outcome to date of the Commission's work has unearthed no facts which would justify viewing religious and ideological minorities as dangerous for individuals, society and the state". The expert assistance which the Enquiry Commission has drawn from the Netherlands comes to a quite similar conclusion.
9. We have listened to statements from a selection of the particularly incriminated groups, studied their beliefs and working methods and read the expert reports prepared by colleagues. These included in particular representatives from the unaffiliated self-development market and management training, all of whom were not interviewed by the Enquiry Commission although certain members of the Commission are engaged in bitter battles against them. In no respect were we able to establish any evidence of activities damaging to persons, groups or other organisations. Indeed, the effectiveness of interventions by helpers was equally unable to be proven, although we noted a lot of useful activity. This conclusion does not exclude the possibility that people cannot come to harm through the activities or advice of such groups offering philosophical or practical help with life issues. Even the advice of a friend, or coleagues and associates, of a teacher or of a priest or pastor given with best intentions by way of initial non-professional assistance with regard to psychological well-being can be just as imperfect. It must be taken into consideration that people who take advice or make use of consultancy services may be suffering from considerable psychological, social or medical problems. Such problems are mainly covered up and are not immediately visible to the person giving the advice. Only where there is an obvious failure to provide assistance, can the individual who is supposed to give assistance be held to account. It would be quite pointless to demand that every individual dispensing advice within a religious or socio-psychological setting had t have completed a university graduate or post-graduate course in medicine and psychology - something which quite obviously cannot exclude the possibility of harm being caused in some cases. On the other hand you can have counselling activities which are actually helpful buth could scarcely stand up to strict expert and scientific examination.
We have expressly not dealt specifically with "Scientology" because dealing with this single group would necessarily open up the whole area of "so-called sects and psycho-cults".
10. We appeal to the German population not to allow itself to be taken in by these new attempts to gain spiritual monopoly and control, and equally not to allow themselves to be drawn in by the hysterical heresies of those hunting down sects. We appeal to them not to take part in the demonification of minorities or to denounce others just because they attend the events of a particular group or other. The pursuit of sects lives off the back of the idea created in the public eye that it is protecting citizens from extreme threats. The truth is that the inquisition activities of those hunting down sects represent a threat to the freedom of religion and matters of conscience in an open society. This threat cannot be removed by linguistic cosmetics such as eliminating the term "sects". But rather the multi-cultural, religious and ideological development in our society must be accepted. The fashionable hunting down of sects gives far more reason to be worried about citizens' rights than the vast majority of "so-called sects and psycho-cults".
Hans Apel, Professor of economics at Rostock University and former Federal Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany; Gerhard Besier, Professor of history/contemporary church history at Heidelberg University, and presently at the College of History in Munich; Niels Birbaumer, Professor of medical psychology at Universities of Tubingen, and Padua (Italy); Martin Kriele, Professor of constitutional law at Cologne University; Hermann Lübbe, Professor of philosophy at Zurich University (Switzerland); Erwin K. Scheuch, Professor of sociology at Cologne University.