Scientology Crime Syndicate

From: GSNews
Date: Thu, 1 Jul 1999 18:43:16 -0400

[The Scientologists argued in Swiss Federal Court this week that the sale of books and courses was really commercial activity.]

Federal Court

Yellow cards for the Basel Scientologists

Aargau, Switzerland
July 1, 1999
Aargauer Zeitung

Federal Court upholds regulation against aggressive advertising by sects

The Basel City regulation against the aggressive advertising by sects was upheld by the Constitution. Yesterday the Federal Court rejected a legal complaint by the Scientology Church Basel by a vote of 6 to 1.

Urs-Peter Inderbitzin

The judgment from Lausanne also makes it clear, though, that the Scientology Church may continue to proselytize on public ground as long as pedestrians are not annoyed in an unacceptable fashion. The often importunate methods of the Scientology Church street missionaries are a sore point in many locations not only for the pedestrians, but also for the business people in the city centers and along the pedestrian zones. Therefore it is not surprising that action has been taken against the street missionaries in various cities in Switzerland. The city of Basel has blazed a new trail in this respect. Last September the Great Council made a new provision in the canton code of violations on the proposal of the Basel city government.

"Deceptive Methods"

According to this decision, a fine of up to 10,000 franks, and, in repeat cases, even imprisonment of up to three months can result if one "advertises or tries to advertise using deceptive or unfair methods to pedestrians on public land." In addition police are empowered by this statute "to direct advertisers away in general or from individual locations if evidence exists that illicit, especially deceptive or unfair, methods are being applied in advertising or pedestrians are being annoyed in an unacceptable manner."

Yesterday the Federal Court dismissed a legal objection against this statute filed by the Scientology Church Basel by a vote of 6 to 1. The Scientologists argued in Lausanne that the statute was impermissible, that it was directed only against the Scientologists as an individual case law and violated a series of freedoms, especially freedom of religion. Besides this they said the city of Basel was not authorized to enact this law because the advertising practiced by the Scientology and the sale of books and courses was a commercial activity and therefore was an exception to the federal law which covered unfair competition.

Insofar as the court dealt with these reprimands, it completely rejected them all. The legal decision had been enacted in accordance with the Constitution in the opinion of a majority of 6 judges. One federal judge wanted to state the decision was partially invalid; for him the chances of preventive intervention by the police - in particular as regards the power of general dispersing - went too far.

Contrary to the Scientologists' opinion, the officials did not interfere in an impermissible method with their religious freedom. "One who advertises in a proper manner may do so without being approved by the police," opined one judge, thereby laying the groundwork for permissible proselytizing by Scientologists. Or as another judge thought, "Not all religious propaganda is impermissible;; everybody has to take a certain amount of religious handling as part of the deal." However the Federal Court made it clear that the borderline between permissible proselytizing and deceptive and unfair sect advertisement would not always be simple [to detect].

Problems in practice

The question of the practicality of the statute was also raised in Lausanne. However one trusts that the Basel City police (without wanting to get too close to them) are able to judge whether pedestrians are being annoyed in an unacceptable way. Whether the keepers of the law are in the position to make it clear to a proselytizing Scientologist that there is evidence of deceptive or otherwise unfair methods and then to order him to be on his way is doubted in Lausanne. Even the "general" dispersing order mentioned in the law brought head shakes from one judge: does this mean an instruction to leave a place, a time or does it just refer to content? Do the police on Barfuesser Place say "go away" or "go away forever" or even "keep off of public ground"? The controversial Basel statute may be a tough nut to crack when it comes to applying it.

Scientology satisfied

In one first impression the Scientology Church reacted with satisfaction to the decision, primarily to the basis by the federal court. In principal, they said, the court had confirmed fundamental objections by the church that the law was very difficult to interpret and that care must be taken with fundamental rights in its application, primarily with religious freedom. It was most important to the church that the court allegedly confirmed that addressing pedestrians and proselytizing on public land were not affected by this regulation and were basically permitted.

Even before the judgment the Scientology Church had indicated that it was in full agreement that proselytizing may not be done either unfairly, deceptively or annoyingly; members had already been instructed in that respect a long time ago. Insofar as their practice in Basel, they said nothing would change and that they were very confident that a mutual solution would be found with the officials in Basel.


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