July 26, 2000
by THOMAS C. TOBIN;
Church leaders say the German official is a
"fascist demagogue'' who has stoked a hate
campaign. She says they exaggerate.
CLEARWATER -- The battle between the Church of
Scientology and the German government, a long-running
dispute steeped in emotion and international politics, has come
crashing into Clearwater with a visit by a controversial
Ursula Caberta, who heads a government office in Hamburg
that works to curb Scientology in Germany, said Tuesday at a
downtown news conference that Scientology is viewed in her
country as "a new kind of political extremism." She also
alleged that church officials have exaggerated hardships of
Scientologists caused by her office and used fraud in an
orchestrated effort to persuade U.S. lawmakers to impose
sanctions against Germany.
"I believe that the very good relations between Germany and
the U.S. should not be influenced by an organization like
Scientology," Caberta said, appearing at the headquarters of
the Lisa McPherson Trust, a "watchdog group" founded by
Scientology critic Bob Minton.
Officials in the church's worldwide spiritual headquarters here
were quick to respond, inviting reporters to speak with about
20 German Scientologists who say they have moved to
Clearwater because of discrimination in their homeland. Many
said Caberta has stoked a hate campaign in Germany that has
ruined the lives and fortunes of scores of Scientologists,
denying them access to jobs, credit, schools and civic groups.
"It is all I can do to hold my temper," said Hans Bschorr, a
Scientologist who said he was employed as a television
reporter covering the Bavarian parliament when a newspaper
article four years ago mentioned he belonged to the church.
"I lost everything over there instantly," said Bschorr, scoffing
at the notion Scientologists have exaggerated their plight for
political gain in the United States. "I had to move my family
out of the country."
He now lives with his family in Clearwater.
On Sunday, when Caberta arrived at Tampa International
Airport, about a dozen Scientologists greeted her with shouts
of "Nazi, go home!" and other insults. That was followed by
many tense moments that have kept Clearwater police on their
toes, including a dual picket Sunday in which Scientologists
and members of Minton's group warily shared the same
Stacy Brooks, a leader of Minton's group and a former
Scientologist, said the display at the airport was "an
embarrassing moment for me as an American." She said
Caberta was an "incredibly compassionate" person.
But Scientologists disagree. "It was an appropriate welcome,"
said Marty Rathbun, a top church official, who called Caberta
a "fascist demagogue."
At the news conference, Caberta focused on the case of
Antje Victore, a German Scientologist who in 1997 was
granted political asylum in the United States by a Tampa
immigration judge after claiming she was subjected to religious
persecution in her homeland.
It was believed to be the first time the United States had
granted asylum to a Scientologist.
Caberta pointed to letters Victore used to make her case.
They were written by business owners who said Victore
wouldn't be hired in Germany because of her involvement in
Scientology. However, Victore failed to disclose to the judge
that the letters were written by fellow Scientologists, Caberta
said. She also said they were written in English, not German,
which suggested an orchestrated effort by Scientology to use
Victore's case for political gain and a "spectacular" abuse of
the U.S. system.
In a bill pending before Congress, the case is listed as one
reason the United States should pressure Germany to stop
"government discrimination . . . based on religion or belief."
Victore now lives in Clearwater.
Though Scientology did not orchestrate the case, Rathbun said,
there would have been nothing improper if it had.
He and Bill Walsh, the church's human rights lawyer, criticized
a form developed by Caberta's office that is used by
companies and many local governments in Germany to weed
out Scientologist job candidates.
The church refers to the form as a "sect filter." Walsh said it
is coming into increasingly wider use by German companies,
including subsidiaries of U.S. corporations, promoting
"importation of this kind of tyranny," Walsh said.
Caberta said Tuesday that the form was developed after
German business people complained that Scientologists were
trying to incorporate the principles of Scientology founder L.
Ron Hubbard into corporations.
The form prevents that practice and is not a blanket ban
against hiring Scientologists, she said: "This is falsely being
converted into a question of religion."