US State Dept International Religious Freedom Report for 2015


Patron Meritorious
Listed below are passages that mention Scientology in the country sections of the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2015, released on August 10, 2016.

For passages from the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2014, see
US State Dept International Religious Freedom Report for 2014

Some groups organize as associations while applying for recognition as religious societies. The Church of Scientology and a number of smaller religious groups are organized as associations.
The federal Office of Sect Issues continued to offer advice to persons with questions about groups it considered to be “sects” and “cults.” While the office was independent, it was government funded, and its head was appointed and supervised by the Minister for Family and Youth. Some Scientologists continued to state on social media that the Office of Sect Issues and other government-associated entities fostered societal discrimination against religious groups not registered as religious societies or confessional communities.

A federally-funded counseling center in Lower Austria managed by the Society against Sect and Cult Dangers, an NGO working actively against groups it deemed to be “sects and cults,” such as Scientology, continued to distribute information to schools and the general public and operated a counseling center for individuals who considered themselves negatively affected by such groups. The center received funding for some of its projects from the provincial governments of Vienna and Lower Austria. Several other provinces funded offices providing information on sects and cults.

The government does not collect or publish statistics on religious affiliation. A 2011 report (based on 2009 data) by the King Baudouin Foundation estimates the religious affiliation of the population to be 50 percent Roman Catholic, 32 percent without affiliation, 9 percent atheist, 5percent Muslim, 2.5 percent non-Catholic Christian, 0.4 percent Jewish, and 0.3 percent Buddhist. The Muslim population is highest in Antwerp and Brussels, where some studies estimate it at more than 25 percent of the respective metropolitan areas. According to the report, other religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Hindus, Sikhs, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas), and Scientologists.
In October the government initiated a trial after a 15-year investigation in which it charged the Church of Scientology with illegal practice of medicine, fraud, organized criminal activity, and violation of privacy laws. The trial concluded on December 11, with a verdict expected in 2016.
Embassy representatives met with legal counsel to the Church of Scientology during the fall trial of the Church.

Approximately 3 percent of the population is Muslim and 1 percent Jewish. Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists, Bahais, and adherents of Shintoism, Taoism, and aboriginal spirituality together constitute less than 4 percent of the population. Approximately 24 percent of the population claims no religious affiliation.

Religious groups not recognized by either royal decree or by a government registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices without any kind of public registration, but members of those groups must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted fully tax-exempt status, but do have some tax benefits; for example, contributions by members are tax deductible.
The Church of Scientology has applied for recognition several times in the past and the government has denied its application. The Church has yet to be evaluated under the current recognition approval criteria. Although the Church of Scientology remained unregistered with the government, it was able to proceed with plans to construct a place of worship in Copenhagen.

The Church of Scientology estimates it has 45,000 members.
In September the Versailles prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation for mental harassment, abuse of weakness, misappropriation of corporate assets, and bankruptcy and concealment against the Church of Scientology and a private company, Arcadia, following complaints by 12 employees of the company, who said its owner had joined the Church. Plaintiffs stated they were forced to undergo a training routine that amounted to psychological harassment. The investigation continued at year’s end.
By year’s end a court had still not set a date for the trial of three branches and three leaders of the Church of Scientology charged in 2014 with fraud, deceptive commercial practices, and abuse of public funds for allegedly teaching Scientology precepts in 1998 to children at a private school in Vincennes without the knowledge of their parents.

The Basic Law (the constitution) prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. Some state governments and federal agencies continued to decline to recognize certain belief systems as religions, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church of Scientology (COS), making them ineligible for tax benefits. State-level authorities issued public warnings about some minority religious groups and discriminated against their members in public sector hiring. Federal and state Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (OPCs) monitored the activities of some groups, including COS and some Muslim groups which the offices suspected of furthering what they considered extremist goals.
The Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) continued to use “sect commissioners” to warn the public of what they characterized as dangers from some religious groups, such as the Unification Church, the COS, Universal Life, and Transcendental Meditation practitioners. Some employers continued to use written agreements known as “sect filters,” asking potential new employees to confirm they had no contact with Scientology.
Some employers continued to use written agreements known as “sect filters,” asking potential new employees to confirm they had no contact with Scientology.
Other religious groups include Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses (222,000), and COS (5,000-10,000).
The COS does not have PLC ["public law corporation"] status in any state.
Some state governments and federal agencies continued to decline to recognize certain belief systems as religions, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, making them ineligible for tax benefits. The government continued to investigate Scientologists and Muslim groups for reported constitutional violations. The court decision declaring the headscarf ban for teachers in public schools unconstitutional left states to implement legal changes. Scientologists continued to report instances of governmental discrimination, such as the use of “sect filters” to block them from public sector employment.
The status of the COS remained unresolved. No court at the state or federal level issued any ruling on whether Scientology was a religion.
Scientologists continued to report instances of governmental discrimination. “Sect filters,” which were signed statements asking potential government employees and contractors to confirm they had no contact with Scientologists and rejected their doctrines, remained in use in the public and private sectors, although courts at the state and federal level had ruled it was improper to use them to deny employment or contracts to Scientologists. In May the Baden-Wuerttemberg government narrowed its policy to require signed “sect filters” only from external subcontractors providing promotional materials, job training, and IT and business consulting. The subcontractors had to indicate they would not apply Scientology’s methods in providing services to the state.

On January 16, the Stuttgart Superior Court ordered the city of Stuttgart to pay 4,780 euros ($5,135) in lost income to a tree expert it had hired to train park employees on tree care. The expert had sued the city after it cancelled its contract with him when he refused to sign a “sect filter” stating he rejected Scientology methods and had not been trained in them.

According to annual federal and state OPC reports and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia monitored the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.

Four of the major political parties (the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, Social Democratic Party, and Free Democratic Party) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.
Catholic and Protestant churches continued to oppose Scientology publicly, and the COS said private companies continued to use “sect filters” against its members.
“Sect filters” continued to be used in private sector employment and contracts. The COS stated a number of companies placed restrictions on hiring and contracting members of the COS. Some members of COS said they did not legally challenge these filters because they said they feared the stigma and loss of business clients and contracts.

The Catholic Church and the EKD [Evangelical Church in Germany] continued to oppose Scientology publicly, although COS members said press reporting and public reactions to Scientology decreased. “Sect commissioners” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects, cults, and psycho groups” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups. EKD “sect commissioners” warned the public about the alleged dangers also posed by the Unification Church, Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, and Universal Life. Print and internet literature produced by “sect commissioners” portrayed these groups unfavorably.
Embassy and consulate general representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups to discuss religious freedom, including the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches; the Bahai, Alevi Muslim, Coptic Christian, and Sufi Muslim communities; the Konrad Adenauer Foundation; the Central Council of Muslims; the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the Central Council of Jews; the COS; and human rights NGOs.

Other groups that together are estimated by religious groups to constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Old Calendarist Orthodox, agnostics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Bahais, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas).
Religious groups that did not have legal status and had never received house of prayer permits, including Scientologists, Hare Krishnas, and polytheistic Hellenic groups, were only able to function as registered nonprofit civil law organizations. The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by those religious groups.

Groups present in small numbers include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Rastafarians, Scientologists, and atheists.

On October 13, the Church of Scientology inaugurated its second-largest temple in the country in Milan. Some Muslims said the fact that a much smaller religious group was able to obtain the permit to transform a building into a place of worship relatively quickly, while local authorities subjected their own requests to long delays, amounted to discrimination.

Other religious groups representing less than 3 percent of the population in total include Jews, Buddhists, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas), Bahais, and Scientologists.

The Church of Scientology was reported to be registered as a public association rather than a religious organization, and continued to function.

Kyrgiz Republic
Authorities maintained bans on approximately 20 “religiously oriented” groups, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Kurdish Peoples’ Congress, the Organization for the Release of Eastern Turkistan, HT , the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Party of Turkistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah, At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, Da’esh, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, and the Church of Scientology.

On October 21, the appellate court in The Hague denied Scientology the status of an institution of public advancement, making it ineligible for tax exemptions, on the grounds that it operated as a commercial enterprise.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, guaranteeing equal rights irrespective of religious belief and the right to worship and profess one’s religion, but by law officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law states Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism are the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The government generally did not restrict the activities of Jewish or Christian groups with a longer presence in the country but imposed restrictions limiting the activities of Muslims and other religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and Scientologists. Government actions included detaining, fining, and imprisoning members of minority religious groups. Police conducted raids on minority religious groups in private homes and places of worship, confiscating religious publications and property, and blocked their websites. Authorities applied anti-extremism laws to revoke the registration of minority religious groups and imposed restrictions that infringed on the practices of minority religious groups and their ability to purchase land, build places of worship, and obtain restitution of properties confiscated during the Soviet era. The government continued to declare some religious materials of minority religious groups extremist, adding two Muslim publications to the extremist list. A prosecutor also seized books from a Jewish school to examine them for extremist content. The government later amended the law to make it illegal to declare the key texts, or “holy books” of the four “traditional” religions as extremist. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) declared a Jewish charity organization a “foreign agent,” requiring the organization to add this designation to its website and all its publications. The government granted privileges to the ROC that were accorded to no other religious group.
The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials met with a range of government officials, including the foreign ministry’s special representative for human rights, to discuss the treatment of minority religious groups, the use of the law on extremism to restrict the activities of religious groups, and the revocation of registration of some religious organizations. The Ambassador met with senior representatives of the four “traditional” religious groups, including the patriarch and the head of external relations of the ROC, the chair of the Federation of Jewish Communities, the chair of the Russia Muftis Council, and the Papal Nuncio to discuss religious freedom issues. Embassy representatives regularly engaged with officials from “traditional” and minority religious groups, including rabbis, muftis, Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, U.S. missionaries, Mormons, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Falun Gong adherents, Hare Krishnas, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to promote interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance and discuss religious freedom developments, including specific cases.
Religious groups constituting less than 5 percent of the population each include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Bahais, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas), pagans, Tengrists, Scientologists, and Falun Gong adherents.
Authorities revoked the status of some minority religious groups, forcing them to suspend their activities, and imposed a number of restrictions that infringed on the religious practices of other minority religious groups, in particular Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and Scientologists, including limiting their ability to obtain land and build places of worship.
On November 23, the Moscow city court banned the activity of the Church of Scientology of Moscow and ordered that it be dissolved. The court accepted the MOJ’s argument that the term Scientology was trademarked and thus could not be considered a religious organization covered by the constitution’s freedom of religion clause. The MOJ also stated the Church of Scientology conducted its business in St. Petersburg, contrary to the charter identifying Moscow as the location of all activity.
Religious minorities said local authorities utilized the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred and essential religious texts. The MOJ’s [Ministry of Justice] ]list of extremist materials grew to 3,209 entries from 2,500 at the end of 2014, including 69 texts from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, four from Falun Gong, and seven from Scientology. Items added to the list of extremist materials included neo-Nazi internet videos, the book Islamic Aqeedah by Jamila Muhammad Zina, and some materials by Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church Andrey Maklakov.

In October security forces raided the offices of the Church of Scientology of Moscow, stating the organization used office recording devices and video cameras to conduct surveillance of members of the church. Authorities opened a criminal investigation, which was continuing at year’s end.
On November 18, the principal of the private English school PM - Studio in Chelyabinsk was fined 2,000 rubles ($27) for circulating the book What is Scientology? which the MOJ had listed as “extremist material” in 2010, along with several other books by Scientology’s founder.
Representatives from the embassy and the consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok met regularly with rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community, muftis and other Islamic leaders, Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Falun Gong adherents, Hare Krishnas, and Buddhists. These discussions covered developments related to religion and religious freedom, including legislation, government practices, and specific religious freedom cases.

South Africa
There are small numbers of Scientologists.

Other religious groups include Orthodox Christians (1.5 million according to the government); Jehovah’s Witnesses (170,000 according to media reports); Buddhists (80,000 according to the government);The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), who number 50,000 according to media reports; Bahais; Scientologists; Hindus; Christian Scientists; and other Christian groups.

Smaller religious communities are mainly concentrated in larger cities and include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and members of the Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas), and the Unification Church.

Religious groups that total less than 5 percent of the population include ... the Church of Scientology, ...