German ministers say Scientology unconstitutional

BERLIN Fri Dec 7, 2007 1:09pm EST

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BERLIN (Reuters) - German federal and state interior ministers declared the Church of Scientology unconstitutional on Friday, opening the door for a possible ban on the organization.

Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and 16 state interior chiefs agreed "that we do not consider Scientology an organization that is compatible with the constitution", Ehrhart Koerting, Berlin's interior minister and chairman of a ministers' conference in Berlin, told reporters.

Germany does not recognize Scientology as a religion. seeing it as a cult masquerading as a church to make money. Scientologists reject this view.

The government permits the Church of Scientology to operate in Germany as an organization, and in January it opened a six-storey headquarters in the heart of west Berlin.

Earlier this week, a Berlin district set up an office to deal with complaints about Scientology.

Koerting said Germany's domestic intelligence agencies should continue gathering information on the legality of Scientology's activities in Germany so that a decision could be made on what to do about it next year.

Earlier this year, the German Defense Ministry said it would not allow the makers of a movie about an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler to film at German military sites because U.S. actor Tom Cruise, a Scientologist, was appearing in it.

The government later insisted that Cruise's personal beliefs had nothing to do with its initial decision to prevent him from shooting scenes at a site in the Defense Ministry complex and permitted the actor to film there.

The ministers also agreed to examine ways of cutting off funds to far-right organizations by taking a close look at state aid to foundations that supported them, Koerting said.

The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) entered the regional parliament in the eastern state of Saxony in 2004 after winning more than 9 percent of the vote.

The NPD and another far-right party now hold seats in several state parliaments, giving them the right to financial support from the government.

(Additional reporting by Markus Krah; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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