Germans are being warned of the ‘danger’ of Scientology amid growing concerns over the numbers of after-school tutoring programmes springing up across the country.
The government has told internal security forces to step up their scrutiny of the movement, claiming that the Scientologists, which they label a cult, are seeking to take advantage of Germany’s ailing education system as a means to recruit children. It has prompted US embassy officials to lobby the German government on the sect’s behalf.
Police and intelligence agencies have been closely following the activities of the group. State security and educational officials have issued warnings to schools and parents that seemingly innocuous tutoring programmes may be fronts to recruit children and their families.
Scientology-affiliated tutoring programmes have more than tripled in the past 12 months, and there are now estimated to be at least 30 nationwide. ‘We know that Scientology is trying to approach students to gain followers,’ said Bavarian Interior Minister Gunther Beckstein, who said there were at least eight tutoring programmes connected to Scientology in Bavaria.
Scientology has the legal right to operate as a religion in Germany, though the government has refused it tax-exempt status. ‘Scientology is not a religion. It is a business and its aim is to gain power over individuals and try to brainwash them,’ Beckstein added. ‘We see it as the duty of the state to inform students and parents about the danger of these schools.’
Scientology spokeswoman Sabine Weber said the group was a religious one being persecuted and that fears about tutoring and brainwashing were ‘pure invention’. She said she was aware of only one case of a teacher using tutoring as a means to conversion. ‘This goes against Scientology doctrine,’ she added.
The Church of Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has celebrity adherents including Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Isaac Hayes. It has a reputation for being secretive, wealthy and extremely aggressive in repelling critics. While it claims to have 10 million members worldwide, independent experts estimate the number as closer to 100,000.