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Scientologists win draft deferment

Title: Scientologists win draft deferment
Date: Saturday, 3 March 1979
Publisher: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Main source:

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Bonn WEST GERMANY — BONN (AP) - A legal battle is raging between the Scientology Church and the West German army over a draft deferment for a trainee minister of the controversial cult.

The deferment was granted to 23-year-old Franz Walter Siedler by a Darmstadt court last December, freeing him from 15 months of military duty while he completes studies in the Scientology Church of Germany, which claims 20,000 members.

The deferment was the first ever granted in West Germany to a Scientologist on theological grounds, and the group's leaders said the ruling was their "most significant success in a German court." Mr. Siedler's deferment "sets Scientology ministers on a par with ministers of the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches who have taken vows as subdeacons," church spokesman Kurt Weiland contended.

But military officials, fearing Mr. Siedler's case will provoke a flood of cult-related deferments, appealed the ruling and the appeal was handed this week to the West Berlin court.

A rising number of conscientious objectors are already causing a manpower squeeze for the 495,000-strong Bundeswehr, NATO's biggest European force. An estimated 40,000 draft-age West Germans claimed conscientious objector status last year, choosing to work out their military commitment in alternate civilian services.

We are of the opinion that Scientology is not comparable to traditional churches," said Siegfried Thiel, spokesman of the Wiesbaden Military Office which drafted Mr. Siedler. "The court's ruling was not legally binding. It was left open for appeal. "We hope the deferment will be quickly overturned," said a defence official in Bonn, who asked not to be named. "We are worried the case could set a precedent for members of other sects." Mr. Siedler is attending a Scientology seminar in Frankfurt to become a full-time minister in West Germany, church officials said. There are four Germans, two Swiss and two U.S. citizens on the staff of ministers and 30 other Scientologists working as part-time "spiritual advisers." If Mr. Siedler's study deferment is confirmed, Scientology officials said, he will automatically be exempted from military service after completing his studies, as are newly ordained ministers of traditional religions in West Germany.

The case is intriguing because Scientology is one of the groups branded a menace to young people by the West German Government and traditional churches.

The Ministry of Youth, Family and Health has estimated that 150,000 West Germans, mostly in the 14-to-28 age group, have joined a dozen various sects whose "common aim is the pursuit of power and money." Named in the ministry's warnings are Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, the Society of Transcendental Meditation, Hare Krisna monks, the Divine Light Mission of Maharaj Ji, Mose David Berg's Children of God and Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology.

Mr. Hubbard founded the church in the United States in 1954 and moved his world headquarters to a mansion outside London in the late 1960s. He is currently appealing a conviction on fraud charges in France.

The mass suicide of more than 900 Peoples Temple members last November in Jamestown, Guyana, spurred calls in West Germany for a crackdown on sects and cults. Spokesman Rudolf Moyses said Scientology has been erroneously grouped together with youth sects, and he denied the group has anything to do with suicides, brainwashings, sexual abuses and or crimes.

Mr. Moyses described Scientology as non-profit, non-authoritarian and apolitical with a mostly adult membership averaging 30 years of age.

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