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FEATURE RELEASE
EVEN HITLER PAID THE CHURCH TAX

by Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch,
President, Church of Scientology International

      The German government’s discrimination against Scientologists has aroused anger and incomprehension on the western side of the Atlantic. The U.S. State Department voiced its sharpest criticism to date of German tactics in its annual human rights report released at the end of January. Last November, the U.N. Human Rights Committee also expressed serious concerns about German human rights violations against Scientologists and other minorities.

      On paper, the German Constitution guarantees religious freedom. But for whom? In a country whose religious life has been dominated for centuries by the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, no true division of church and state exists. The German churches, among the richest in the world, enjoy immense political power which they do not scruple to wield against any new religion perceived as a threat.

      There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a church having money, if it is used for religious and charitable ends. The finances of the German churches are worth examining, however, because they reveal a depth of hypocrisy among some government officials, many of them church-connected, in their criticisms of new religions.

      At the heart of the state churches’s wealth is the controversial church tax. Every year, the government collects 17 billion DM on behalf of the two large Christian churches from their German parishioners. Approximately 70% of this huge sum is disbursed in salaries of ministers and other church personnel. In 1986, Bavaria, severely criticized last November by the State Department and the U.N. Human Rights Committee for barring Scientologists from holding jobs in the public sector, paid almost 55 million DM to subsidize the salaries of its priests, 8.95 million to chapter members and one million to bishops and archbishops. Since then, Bavaria’s funding of its clergy has risen by 13%.

      The church tax is nothing if not resilient. Although Christian theology withered under the onslaught of fascism in the 1930s, not so the tax. It not only survived, but gained a new lease of life in 1933 through an unholy alliance between the Nazis and the Catholic Church known as the Concordat. The Concordat confirmed the right of the Church to levy taxes on its membership, including the Fuehrer himself. So, while Jews, Gypsies, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted and murdered wholesale, billions of DM continued to flow into the coffers of the Catholic Church. With one noteworthy provision: All Catholic priests in Germany had to swear an oath of fealty to the Third Reich.

      When the Allies overran Nazi Germany, Nazi sympathizers among the priests proved as resilient as the tax. The Allies removed all the top officials in Germany with the exception of Protestant and Catholic clergy, leaving many pro-Nazi priests and pastors to help re-establish Germany.

      How did the tax start? In the early 1800s, land owned by the German churches was given to the German aristocracy to replace property they had lost during the Napoleonic wars. The churches were compensated for their loss by annual payments out of tax money.

      So, while the United States had already firmly established freedom of religion and separation of church and state, the Germans were heading in the opposite direction. And, although pasted over with a Constitution drafted largely by American minds after World War II to guarantee government neutrality in religious matters, German politics is still firmly under the control of the state churches.

      Nor is the tax the end of the government’s efforts on their behalf. Although the church tax is paid only by parishioners, all Germans pay in subsidies—in total, more than 16 billion DM towards religious education in schools, training of priests and theologians, religious grants, pastoral care in prisons, asylums and the military, protection of historic churches, funding of religious programs and community subsidies.

      Not surprisingly, in addition to worshipping God, the German state churches are able to give Caesar his due as well. They are the largest landowners in Germany, with 400 billion DM in real estate holdings. They also own seven banks each and have shares in publishing houses, beer breweries, vineyards, hotels, restaurants, steel companies, life insurance, property insurance and home loan associations. Not to mention owning more than 140 newspapers and magazines, weapons that are continually used to “protect the faith” by mounting propaganda assaults against new religions from abroad.

      Now here is the point. It is deeply ironic that the main accusation thundered against new religions, including Scientology, from the pulpit and the halls of government is that they are somehow “commercial.” As the Frankfurt Regional Court pointed out in 1989, the Church of Scientology’s system of raising funds only through voluntary donations is in fact a fairer method than an enforced tax. “Each member has to decide on his or her own responsibility whether he or she believes in the doctrine... and wants to secure the assistance and spreading of the religious community by the payments to be effected,” the Court wrote.

      Apparently a large number of Germans agree. Since the only way to escape payment of the church tax is by leaving the Catholic or Lutheran Churches, each year several hundred thousand Germans resign, representing a loss of tax income of nearly $1 billion. In 1995, 440,000 left the Catholic and Lutheran Churches for good, according to the Los Angeles Times. If this drainage continues at its present rate, in fifty years time the big Christian churches of Germany will no longer be a serious force.

      Such a prognosis goes a long way to explaining why the membership of a government commission formed to examine more than 600 religions and self-improvement groups with a total membership estimated at 2 million Germans is studded with representatives of the state churches. And why Bavarian Minister of the Interior Guenther Beckstein, a member of the Synod of the Lutheran Church in Bavaria, has disregarded the German Constitution and his country’s human rights commitments in his fanatical desire to combat the rapidly growing Church of Scientology.

      In fact, every major propagandist against Scientology in Germany is somehow affiliated with the big state churches. Federal Minister of Labor Norbert Bluem, a Catholic theologian, appears to spend almost as much time pounding out fabrications and propaganda about Scientology as he does trying to find jobs for the country’s record number of unemployed—the highest in Germany since the war.

      Mr. Bluem’s days as Labor Minister may be numbered, however. After a public spat with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he has walked into a new minefield: revelations that for decades his Ministry has been paying “war victim pensions” to thousands of war criminals and former members of the Waffen-SS. Meanwhile, 13,000 Jewish victims of the Nazis still await their first compensation after more than half a century.

      The United States formed a democracy on a base of religious freedom and the principle that church and state are absolutely separate. In Germany, more than 200 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, church and state are still bride and bridegroom, a marriage that continues to have serious and damaging consequences for religious freedom and democracy in that country.


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