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A German court has deemed that the country's government is within its rights to watch over the Church of Scientology. But the debate over whether Scientology is a sect or a genuine religion is sure to continue.
The court upheld a ruling permitting government surveillance of Scientology
An administrative appellate court in Muenster handed down the verdict in the case, brought by the Scientology organization, which challenged an early decision allowing government surveillance.
The Muenster judges found that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution was within its authority to keep Scientologists under observation.
The opening of a new Scientology center in Berlin last year stirred controversy
In the statement announcing the verdict, the court said that there were "numerous indications" that the Scientology organization promoted a form of society "in which central constitutional values such as the dignity of mankind and the right to equal treatment would be suspended or restricted."
"In particular, there is the suspicion that in a scientological society only Scientologists would enjoy civil rights," the court decided.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, has had Scientology under surveillance since 1997.
Misunderstood faith or public hazard?
The organization itself argued that it is a religious association that does not pursue political goals in the sense of the laws established to protect Germany's constitution.
But the court rejected the argument, deeming it irrelevant to a case for or against surveillance.
Germany officially considers Scientology a business rather than a religion. No charges have ever been brought as a result of government surveillance.
Nonetheless, the court said the Scientology movement was "trying to expand personally and to spread scientological principles more and more within government, the economy and society.
Actor Tom Cruise is one of the movement's most prominent members
Scientology was set up by author L. Ron Hubbard in 1954 in the United States. The organization's official Web site describes its aims as seeking "only evolution to higher states of being for the individual and for society."
The German court also heard testimony concerning a number of anti-democratic remarks made by Hubbard. The court found that no evidence of the movement distancing itself from those opinions.
The Church of Scientology says it will appeal the ruling and called for an end to the surveillance.
"The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution should finally end this farce and turn its attention to real enemies of the Constitution and real danger so as to do what it is there for: to protect the German constitution and the basic rights of the people," the organization said.