Germany announced plans to ban the American-based Church of Scientology yesterday after declaring that the organisation was bent on the "total suppression of the individual" and was incompatible with the country's constitution.
The proposals were unveiled by interior ministers of Germany's 16 federal states and, if implemented, could result in the country becoming one of the first in Europe permanently to outlaw the organisation.
Erhart Körting, Berlin's Interior Minister, who chaired the meeting, insisted afterwards: "All ministers present were unanimous in their view that Scientology is an organisation not compatible with the constitution." He said steps would be taken to implement a ban.
Hamburg's Interior Minister, Udo Nagel, the chief proponent of the ban, described the organisation as a "psycho-ideology" which aims at the "total suppression of the individual".
Sabine Weber, a Scientology spokeswoman, said she was dismayed by the proposals and stressed that the organisation had recently been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights as a religious community. Scientology claims to have some 30,000 members in Germany. The German government believes the number is closer to 6,000. The government considers Scientology to be a commercial enterprise which exploits vulnerable young people.
The organisation has been under intelligence surveillance for more than a decade but drew renewed criticism earlier this year after it opened a new headquarters in Berlin and announced its intention to widen its influence.
One of its most prominent members is Tom Cruise. The Hollywood actor is currently starring as the main character in Valkyrie ,a film about the failed attempt by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.
Cruise's Scientology membership was the reason behind a German Defence Ministry decision earlier this year to refuse the actor permission to film at a location in Berlin where the leader of the plot was executed. The ministry later relented, however.
Germany's Protestant church has compared Cruise to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, and recently argued that he was using his celebrity status to promote Scientology.