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German, U.S. officials to address controversial Church of Scientology

February 15, 1997 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The German government’s contentious relationship with the Church of Scientology will be the subject of talks with U.S. officials next week, although Germany doesn’t see it as a human rights issue.

Instead, Freimut Duve, a member of the German Parliament, said the government believes the organization should be regulated like a business _ one that, in his view, sells a dangerous and addictive product. It has nothing to do with religious freedom or persecution, he said Friday.

``This organization is offering a product _ a mental service like a psychotherapist,″ Duve said, comparing German efforts to control the church to laws in the United States that regulate tobacco ads and smoking in public.

``They use means to keep the customer tied to the product, which comes close to addiction,″ he explained.

German Scientologists like Gerhard Haag, who attended Duve’s news conference to complain, contend the church is a true religion that does not try to control its members’ minds and pocketbooks, as critics claim.

Haag told Duve that he was forced to flee his native country several years ago because of harassment that forced him to sell his business. ``The banks wouldn’t extend credit to me any more. I couldn’t do business any more just because I am a Scientologist,″ he said.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has said that lack of religious freedom is one of the world’s greatest human rights problems, plans to raise the issue when she meets Sunday and Monday with German leaders in Bonn.

Several congressmen, including Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., plan to visit Germany next week on the same matter. On Thursday, Payne introduced a House resolution that would criticize 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 church followers are harassed by the government, businesses, schools and banks in Germany.

But Duve called such claims exaggerated ``propaganda.″

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

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

The German courts have refused to recognize the organization as a religion, denying the church 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.