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German lawmaker backs his country’s handling of Church of Scientology

February 14, 1997 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A German lawmaker defended his country’s regulation of the Church of Scientology as a business, charging Friday that the organization sells a psychological product as addictive as tobacco.

Freimut Duve, a Social Democrat in the German Parliament, also attacked Scientologists who claim they’re being persecuted.

``This company is using millions of dollars to launch a strategic attack on my country,″ Duve told a news conference. ``I think it’s awful to allow such a company to be shielded under the cover of a church.″

Duve’s comments came a day after Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., introduced a House resolution criticizing the German government for discriminating against Scientologists _ something noted in a recent State Department report.

Scientologists, including U.S. celebrities such as actress Anne Archer, singer Isaac Hayes and jazz pianist Chick Corea, claim harassment of church followers by the government, businesses, schools and banks in Germany.

The German courts have refused to recognize the Church of Scientology as a religion, denying the group tax benefits, according to two federal cases cited by the German Embassy. But only the state of Bavaria has refused to fund music and art festivals if church members are involved and has decided to require civil servants to declare whether they are followers, ``which does not automatically exclude individuals,″ the embassy said.

Duve compared German efforts to control the church to laws in the United States to regulate tobacco advertising and smoking in public.

``This organization is offering a product _ a mental service like a psychotherapist,″ Duve said. ``They use means to keep the customer tied to the product, which comes close to addiction.″

The Church of Scientology, which sells books with its teachings, believes technology can expand the mind and help solve human problems.

Gerhard Haag, a German Scientologist who challenged Duve’s assertions during his news conference, said he fled his native country several years ago because of harassment that forced him to sell his business.

``The banks wouldn’t extend credit to me anymore,″ Haag told Duve. ``I couldn’t do business anymore just because I am a Scientologist.″