Ursula Caberta, “A Democratic Society and its Relations to the so-called ‘Sects and Psycho-Groups'”

A Democratic Society and its Relations to the so-called “Sects and Psycho-Groups”

Ladies and gentlemen,

First, let me say how much pleasure it gives me that this congress is taking place in Paris. For a long time, it has been clear to all those dealing with this issue that the discussion must go beyond the frontiers of individual countries in Europe. The exchange of various experiences is urgently needed. I am sure that this congress will be the beginning of an intensive European discussion.

For those who don’t know the details about events in the Federal Republic of Germany, I want to say that for 6 years I am the head of an office in the local government of the Free Hanse-City of Hamburg, which deals with the Scientology-organisation. Our working group was established in 1992 on the basis of a decision of the local parliament of Hamburg – the citizenship of Hamburg. Consequently, our work concentrates on the organisation of Scientology. To analyse the dangers emerging from this organisation and to bring about public action, one necessarily must also – to define the limits – deal with other groups which traditionally are called sects. In Germany, more and more are called psycho-groups. An Enquete-Commission of the German Bundestag (the federal parliament) has dealt with the so-called “sects and psycho-groups” from 1996 – 1998. I have been a member of this commission, as an expert for the social-democratic fraction of the Bundestag.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, a psycho-market has increasingly developed. The spectrum goes from new-religious groups, healing and / or guru-movements up to organisations with a fundamentalistic political aim such as, for example, the Scientology-organisation. I think that many of these groups require public examination.This market contains many psychological and pseudo-psychological sales-offers for life-aid, life-orientation and personal development outside the professional psychology and the professional health service, including various things like psychological business success classes, consultation offers for money problems, astral journeys, medial contact to extraterrestrial “intelligences”, or return to earlier lives. What many of these organisations have in common is that they work commercially and offer help to solve problems or to change personality. This commercial psycho-market is part of a larger and broader movement in our society, which may be called psycho-movement.

People and methods promise to convert insufficiency into power and /or raggedness into integrity. Hope and desire finally to match the publicly propagated standard of success, youth, luck and, above all, self-determination in the present and, if required, also in the other world, seduce various people.

The desire for a method which is easy to learn and which enables people to exhaust the individually percepted “sources of luck” offered to the majority by the world of adventure and consumption guides many people to the various offers of this psycho-world, independent of education, social range and financial resources.

The groups, companies or cults which have emerged from the whole psycho-movement are an international problem. Be it at the American continent, in Australia or in Europe – the fates of the people who turn to these movements are various and often drastic. The influence of various groups reaches economics and politics. The general dangers arising from most of these groups are: mixed forms, split-offs and small gurus emerging from the large field of esoterics make it especially difficult to know the true aims. The following is valid for most of them.

Sects, psycho-groups and destructive cults:

* damage numerous individuals and families in our society.

* use psychological and social methods of influence to recruit members and to tie them to the group.
* use their abilities to suppress any type if criticism, threatening people by legal persecution and other means of intimidation.
* penetrate society – in various camouflages – by their totalitarian social structures.

The way of life in those groups has consequences which influence the general health, partially also the public security and the social peace. During recent years, some groups have developed recruitment methods by entering economical and public institutions. Some of them have started to sell management training programs which introduce methods of mental programming, instead of training abilities and
procurement of knowledge. Normally, with these methods, they recruit new members for their organisation. They concentrate on self-employed people, and also branches of industry, to sell workshops and seminaries for their employees.

Many members of various groups work for a minimum salary or even for nothing in commercial enterprises which belong to these groups or are operated by them. This is true for the “Universelles Leben” (“universal life”), “Scientology” or Colonia Dignidad. Their income together with the profit will be delivered, directly or indirectly, to the central office. In this way the various groups have the strategic advantage over private industry to have very low salary costs and a high amount of contracts. As they use unpaid or underpaid work they can offer services cheaper than other companies. In this connection the increasing occurrence of so-called “direct marketing companies” or “multilevel marketing companies” will have a special importance, because the groups are using these methods in their enterprises. Additionally, some of these groups are ready for violence in their selling strategies. Readiness for violence may relate to the actual members, but others will carry the violence to the outside, especially at critical debates. I think it is unnecessary to explain this more extensively to the participants of this congress. The question is how the various countries of the European Union will handle this issue.

Certainly, other European countries have similar developments in the perception of these problems. In the German Federal Republic we could see that the commissioners for philosophy of life of the large Christian churches were the first ones who were confronted with individual fates and who opened the quarrel. But there were also groups of concerned relatives and former members, founding initiatives and starting to inform the public and the various institutions of the society. The have been attacked by the organisations, and which was worse for many of them, they have not been sufficiently recognized by state authorities. The total phenomenon and the related problems for the individual and for the society have for much too long not been taken seriously enough. In Germany even today it is very difficult to convince the responsible people at the police and at the department of public prosecution about the connections and the groups’ strategy to prevent investigations. For many people at the investigation authorities or at the courts it is not yet clear enough that the legal principles of the state also can be misused. There is a deficit of knowledge, more than in other areas. The heavy work in this area in Germany was done because of the initiatives of concerned people. They seldom receive acknowledgement for their work. I hope that this congress will contribute to recognition of this work as it should be recognised. Public authorities in Germany have started relatively late to deal with that subject, and still today one cannot say that the politically responsible people in the Bundesländer or also in the federal government make effective efforts to act as it should be.

How is the situation in Germany?

Article 4 of the constitution is important because it guaranties the freedom of belief and conscience and of the religious confession and the undisturbed practising of religion. As several cults appear as religions, it must be first proved in the debate with the state that the latter does not conflict with this article 4. From my point of view, especially the most totalitarian groups use the pretended religiosity to involve the state in such discussions. Because they only can increase and enforce their influence in politics when the democratic state and its authorities do not care about them. And especially in the German Federal Republic, most of the politically responsible people are very sensible for a very good reason when the question or the reproach concerning a violation of the religious freedom is posed. The religious freedom, one of the leading principles in a free democratic society, is misused unrestrainedly by such groups – I think not only in Germany. Therefore, public action in this area must be co-ordinated. Therefore the exchange about the strategy of various groups is urgently required on the European level.

Not only the freedom of religion and confession offers an improper playroom to the so-called “sects and psycho-groups”. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the education of medicine is regulated, as one could believe. Of course, one must study medicine, make a thesis and various examinations, and the physicians organisations take care that none of their members is doing wrong. One could believe that there could not be any danger. But what if just physicians drop into a problematic cult movement? Should a physician in a hospital who joined the dubious association of the friends of Bruno Gröning and who takes the confused ideas of the founder for the only valid medical solution, be allowed to treat sick people? May a physician, who attests to drug-addicted people in Narconon, Scientology’s drug rehabilitation group, that they are ready for a procedure which is not acknowledged by any health commissioner, and who says that there is no danger for their health, be said to work in the sense of his medical education?

And what about the scene of healing practitioners – I admit that it only exists in Germany – if they are not able to keep unserious gurus and ghost-healers away from their rows?

The ghost-healers who belong to various ranges are united in an umbrella organisation. They obviously are aware that their “spiritual healing” may come into a controversy to the health legislation of the Federal Republic of Germany. The umbrella organisation therefore issued a legal handbook for the healers with suggestions how to handle authorities, and with model letters and estimates to the legal situation. Under the title “legal wayleading” they print suggestions for healing without coming into conflict with the laws. An example:

“Use a logbook where the client has to sign for the receipt of your advice. Models you will find in this book. Thereby you can prove your activity. Of course the logbook must not be forged […..]. You should not write your client’s addresses into the logbook. This would be an invitation for the public prosecutor to cite all your clients.”

Or the long story of Colonia Dignidad, tormenting for the concerned. For most people a story in Chile. But in reality also and just a German story. A lay preacher, wanted in Germany for child abuse, emigrates to Chile together with people obedient to him and creates a state in the state. It becomes more and more clear that the responsible people were protected by the government of Pinochet and that his opponents were kept as prisoners and tortured in underground cells. The main responsible persons were German. For years, relatives and former members tried in vain to get support from German authorities. It seems that Chilean authorities finally react today. But the concerned people felt helpless for years and tens of years – the Colonia Dignidad has existed since 1961. And if your hear the terrible stories and the desperate fight of the concerned, who wonders that the so-called rehabilitation force project camps of Scientology are neglected hitherto by German authorities. These camps, called punishing camps by former members, are located, besides in USA, also in Europe: in Denmark and the UK. And what else must happen until it is noticed officially, that in the so-called elite-unit of Scientology,. the Sea-Org, child labour takes place. Also that in front of the eyes of responsible politicians.

These examples may show the complexity of the confrontation. The specific knowledge available at initiatives, churches and public authorities must be concentrated. Where the state is called to protect citizens or to maintain the public safety of the country, it must also exhaust all possibilities which are available. There is still a lot missing in Germany, but I am afraid, also elsewhere.

Certainly, Germany has done something with respect to what I see as the most dangerous organisation, Scientology. Judgements in Germany making clear that those units, organized according to the association law, are commercial enterprises and the decision of the Federal Labour Court that Scientology is not a religion or a philosophy and therefore cannot claim the protection of the constitution, are essential steps. Especially with respect to Scientology-organisation it was important to politically range the ideology of Mr. Hubbard and the cynic totalitarianism of that organisation there where it fits: to the ideologies which are not compatible with the liberal democratic fundamental order of the Federal Republic of Germany. It took a long time, but for two years now in Germany, the organisation is observed by the intelligence service of the regional offices and the federal office for the protection of the constitution. But also the judgement of the Federal Administrative Court in Berlin, concerning the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is an important part of the debate in Germany. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have aimed to a speciality in the German constitution: to become a corporation of public law, and they lost. The status of a corporation of public law entitles religious communities, according to article 140 of the constitution, to teach religion in schools, to use the public broadcasting and other things. Such corporations are, for example, the catholic and the Protestant church and the Jewish communities. The Federal Administrative Court in Berlin has, for the first time in German court history, interpreted this article for a religious community in its negative decision to the demand of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court is arguing the negative decision by the fact that if the Jehovah’s Witnesses want to be privileged by a democratic state they also had to acknowledge the principles and the constitutional order. As the members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are asked not to participate on elections in Germany, they refuse a basic principle of a democratic state and therefore they cannot obtain the status of a corporation of public law.

This decision, if also accepted by the Federal Constitutional court in Germany, has caused a new and, from my point of view, positive discussion in our country. The scaling of various groups demanding public recognition according to their acceptance of the constitutional principles, inside and outside the group, should not only in Germany be a rule for public action related to those groups.

To clarify laws in this matter, the social democratic group in the enquete-commission of the German Bundestag has proposed to examine the addition to the respective article of the constitution. But a 2/3 majority would be required to change it – it will take some time.

Some other proposals of the enquete-commission will be easier to realize, as I hope, and some of the proposals could also be valid for the European Union.

Thus, the demand of a legal regulation of the commercial life assistance market will be desirable not only for Germany – a proposal has already been made by the city of Hamburg. To force the salesmen to disclose their methods, their costs and the people responsible before making a contract, in order to protect the help-seeking people, would certainly not eliminate the phenomenon, but serve for more legal security.

But also the claim for a public legal foundation to offer legal assistance and financial support to concerned people, to enable research and to support national and international exchange, e.g. by professional conferences, would be worth a Europe-wide discussion.

Finally, the enquete-commission demands to improve the European cooperation by establishing a European information and documentation centre. It would be fine if this congress would support these demands.

Let me conclude:

Each European country deals with the same phenomenon of sects, psychogroups and cults.

Each European country is demanded to politically, this means, publicly, battle against the activity of many cults.

Each European country should therefore support activities which enable a common action on parliamentary and / or administrative level.

I know that it is difficult for us, dealing with the subject for years, to force respective actions in the various countries. But I also know: What this congress in Paris makes clear, what is necessary, will be made still clearer by discussions in Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and elsewhere, and the actions will become more precise.

Especially from the German point of view I think it is urgently required in 1999 to say very loudly (some years ago I still could have said: Restrain to the beginning!):

In the face of the beginning new millennium :
Nobody can say that we did not know!!!

Ursula Caberta