Monday, December 10, 2007

Is religion unconstitutional?

A debate is ensuing in Germany over whether Scientology, the religion made famous by Tom Cruise, and popularised via Youtube following a somewhat heated exchange between Panorama reporter and a leader of the sect, should be banned. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble claimed in an article in Bild am Sonntag that the sect is "is an unconstitutional organization... [that] seeks to limit or rescind basic and human rights, such as the right to develop one's personality and the right to be treated equally". As such, according to Schaeuble, it is dangerous. The response has been an intense anti-German propaganda campaign which likens the suggestion of a ban to the treatment of Jews by Nazis, hence it may be unlikely that such a ban will occur. Despite that fact, the debate raises some very interesting questions.

The first is whether this makes all religions unconstitutional in that religion by its nature restricts the individual's responsibility and becomes part of the personality of a believer. While many who are religious may not recognise that description, consider the level of control exerted over followers of Catholicism. Is Christian abstinence associated with Lent, or Ramadan's fasting, restricting individualism? The second is whether a state, by banning any organisation, even restricting their freedom of speech, give that organisation more power due to the perceived state persecution.

But there is also the other side of the argument. Should any organisation, religious, political or otherwise, undermine any aspect of an elected government's position. While there seems to be a paranoic fascination with Scientology within Germany, there are questions about the way that the religion manages to gain influence and support, particularly using Tom Cruise as an advocate and celebrity endorser. It is an interesting issue and the debate reflects that, few national governments may follow the German example, and perhaps it is indicative (as well as perhaps ironic) that it is under a Chancellor of a party with Christian in its title. Is it right or wrong?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The principle behind saying that scientology is unconstitutional is not new, in the 19th century the liberal thinkers in Mexico put that in the constitution... but they went overboard and basically banned any public religious demonstrations (i.e. priests wearing collars, taking away the ministers' right to vote, teaching religion in schools). In an extremely religious society this turned into a civil war. So in the end, the individual's right to believe and decide should be respected over the "nations" right to be self-determined. There should be some spaces that are as religious-free as possible, like parliamentary discussions, but overall religion has to be tolerated by the government... even scientology.