German Court Rules That Scientology is No Church
KASSEL, Germany (AP) _ A federal court said Wednesday that the Church of Scientology, criticized in Germany over real-estate dealings, is no church but a business enterprise.
The Federal Labor Court said the church’s claim to be a religious community was ``only a pretext for pursuing business interests.″
The court ruled on a complaint by a former Scientology worker who was seeking back wages.
While the ruling appeared to have limited impact _ it affects labor and not tax matters _ it still is a setback for the church, which has complained that its members are blacklisted and otherwise discriminated against in Germany.
The church periodically has come under heavy media criticism in Germany over its involvment in big real-estate deals. Scientology has conducted a long battle with U.S. authorities to retain its tax-exempt status in America.
In its ruling, the German labor court said it was insufficient for a group to proclaim itself a religious community. The spiritual content and appearance of the community should reflect its religious nature, the court said.
``With the Church of Scientology, this is not the case. In reality, it is engaged in trade,″ the court ruled.
It said the church is paid to organize seminars and it sells books, while its supposed religious services are ``heavily commercialized.″
Members are required to pay hefty membership fees, and they receive commissions for recruiting new members, the court said.
As with other businesses, the church’s disputes with workers should be settled by a labor judge, the court ruled.
The plaintiff worked for several years in a Scientology branch in Hamburg. He sought help from the court after the church refused to pay him for his services.
The church argued that its workers are volunteers rather than employees.
The Church of Scientology was established in Los Angeles in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, an American science-fiction writer who died in 1986.