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Thursday, November 6, 1997 Published at 12:33 GMT

Despatches: Europe


A federal court in Berlin has failed to reach a verdict on the legal status of a scientology group. The federal administrative court referred the case back to a regional court. The ruling was expected to give guidance on whether the German government has legal justification for its clampdown on scientology. While the church is not officially banned in any European country, it continues to fight rulings over its tax-exempt status. Our Religious Affairs Reporter Jane Little examines the concern surrounding the church of Scientology.

"Scientology has been the focus of a huge amount of attention in recent years and while the church says it has around 8 million members worldwide, it is the high-profile court cases, and the public voices of Hollywood celebrities which have helped keep it in the spotlight. Support from figures like John Travolta and Tom Cruise has intensified pressure from the United States on the German government. But America itself hasn't always supported Scientologists' claims that they follow a religion - having revoked tax-exempt status in the nineteen sixties and only reinstated it in 1993. The church was founded in Los Angeles in the nineteen fifties by a science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. It was his teachings - that form the basis of Scientology. It holds that humans are temporary vessels for immortal souls called 'Thetans', who created the universe. But their eternal enemies known as 'Engrams' invaded this world and it is only through intense therapy - or Dianetics - that the individual can be healed. But that process costs and it's the price of Enlightenment which has made Scientology big business - and the source of dissent. The German government considers it as a cult and a business, a view shared by France and Denmark which also removed its special tax status. But whatever the legal decisions taken, Scientologists worldwide have shown a financial and popular commitment to defending their beliefs which very few such organisations can match."

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