Respectful Insolence

People unclear on the concept

Why is it that the concepts of freedom of religion and freedom of speech seem so hard for some people to understand? Witness a truly idiotic attempt to prevent someone from appearing on TV simply because he is a Scientologist:

March 31, 2007 – – A German official is demanding that John Travolta be uninvited from a guest appearance on a popular German television show tonight because he’s a Scientologist, but show officials insist he will appear as scheduled.

Guenther Oettinger, the state governor of Baden-Wuerttemberg, wants Travolta off “Wanna Bet?” a popular show in Germany seen by an average of approximately 13 million viewers. The show contestants perform unusual stunts while celebrities, such as Travolta, bet on their outcome.

ABC has bought American rights for the show and is expected to debut a U.S. version later this year.

Oettinger, a popular Christian Democrat politician, was quoted by German papers as requesting that the show’s producers take Travolta off the show because of the actor’s membership in the Church of Scientology.

“By inviting Mr. Travolta to appear on your show, you’re offering this organization a platform to address millions of viewers,” Oettinger was quoted as saying in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Mr. Travolta is a well-known member of that organization, which has only recently opened a new office here, and many people, parents in particular, are concerned about Scientologists and their aims.”

Oettinger was unavailable for comment to ABCNEWS.com, but his spokesman, Thomas Strobl, said he stood by his published comments.

Oettinger’s statement is particularly moronic, given that Travolta agreed in advance not to discuss religion or Scientology on the show, which appears to be nothing more than a silly game show:

Oettinger’s suggestion was rebuffed by Thomas Bellut, programming director for the German network ZDF, which will air “Wanna Bet?” as planned with Travolta as a guest tonight.

Alexander Stock, a ZDF spokesman, told ABCNEWS.com, “Mr. Travolta will appear, of course. To uninvite him from the show would have given the Church of Scientology an undesired attention and would have caused more damage than to have him on the show. Mr. Travolta’s management has agreed that the actor will not talk about that controversial subject.”

I detest Scientology. In my opinion, it’s nothing more than a scam created by its founder L. Ron Hubbard to separate the gullible from their senses and their money. It’s also a threat to good medical care for millions who require psychiatric medication to control the symptoms of their mental illness and function normally in day-to-day life. And I’m not clear on what basis the German government has decided that Scientology was a “potentially unconstitutional organization,” and there’s no doubt that it’s into some seriously shady activities.

Even if Travolta were going to discuss his Scientology beliefs, however, I would still have a hard time with keeping him off the air solely because of his religion or because he was going to discuss his religion. All idiots such as Oettinger accomplish is to allow Scientologists to somewhat credibly don the mantle of the poor persecuted free speech martyr, when in fact it’s hard to imagine an organization that deserves to claim that mantle less.

Comments

  1. #1 Ex-drone
    March 31, 2007

    “Travolta agreed in advance not to discuss religion or Scientology on the show”

    I would be interested in seeing if Herr Bellut could get an agreement from Tom Cruise to stop discussing Scientology … in perpetuity.

  2. #2 JS
    March 31, 2007

    I think the ability to declare an organisation ‘potentially unconstitutional’ is a leftover from the bad old days of the German ‘war on terror.’ Back then the Germans had the questionable habit of sentencing suspected RAF members to berufsverbot or prison based almost solely on their organisational affiliation (at least that’s how you hear the left tell it – Herr Oettinger’s party probably has a somewhat different version of history).

    In any case, I would lay odds that the mandate on part of either the judicial or the executive (I’ve never been quite clear on how that particular quirk of German law works) to declare an organisation ‘criminal’ was simply never removed from the law.

    - JS

  3. #3 SnarlyOldFart
    March 31, 2007

    Germany has a right to worry about subversives and criminals — which classes are subsumed under the general term Scientologist. They have a right to worry about the terrorist activities of people who proclaim themselves radical muslims, or apocalyptic christians.

    Fifty years ago, Scientology would not have been recognized in the US as a religion but instead as a criminal racket. Today, the anything-goes attitude of the neocons admits these and others as ‘legitimate’

    Germany has a lot of painful reminders about what happens when political organizers pretend to be one thing while actually taking over the government by insidious means.

  4. #4 Catherina
    March 31, 2007

    “Wetten dass” is much more than a “silly game show” – it is *the* last Saturday Night Family Entertainment show left on German televison with enormous viewer numbers. Any actor who wants to promote their last movie MUST appear on Wetten dass or be ignored.

  5. #5 Niobe
    March 31, 2007

    There’s something deliciously ironic about a Christian being afraid of Scientologists brainwashing people.

  6. #6 Stuart Coleman
    March 31, 2007

    Scientology is far worse than just a scam, it is outright dangerous. Its followers have murdered people and gotten off without any punishment (I don’t have the source for that handy, but it has happened multiple times and is well documented). I’m not a fan of most religions, but Scientology is outright despicable.

  7. #7 Thony C.
    March 31, 2007

    “I think the ability to declare an organisation ‘potentially unconstitutional’ is a leftover from the bad old days of the German ‘war on terror.’ Back then the Germans had the questionable habit of sentencing suspected RAF members to berufsverbot or prison based almost solely on their organisational affiliation (at least that’s how you hear the left tell it – Herr Oettinger’s party probably has a somewhat different version of history)”.

    The right to declare an orginisation potentially unconstitutional is older and goes back to the immediate post war period when the Germans suffered from a reds under the bed syndrome that was only exceeded by the Americans. “Berufsverbot” was used against communists long before the RAF ever existed. Scientology is not recognised as a religion here in Germany and is under observation in some, but not all, German states as an organisation that might be “Verfassungsfeindlich” i.e. a danger to the constitution which is a crimminal offence here.

  8. #8 Andreas Schaefer
    March 31, 2007

    I agree Mr. Oettinger is an idiot. Nor do I like his party. (if one must compare them to American parties it is more Republican than Democrat [misleading party-names the Republicans are not that much less democratic, neither are the German parties with a C for Christian in their name very Christian].

    However I am slightly miffed that you freely criticize other countries – that have not your weird US laws – unlike th US the freedom of speech is limited by forbidding hate-speech and freedom of religion is limited to religions not shams that just claim to be a religion. America is far from perfect when it comes to keeping those freedoms – were not all to recently students stopped protesting against bush at a graduation and threatened with failure to graduate if they DID protest?
    And if you are in the armed fores: try to get a pentacle on your grave-marker should you die in the service of your country. ( Yes while I am not Wiccan or other-pagan I do think they are a real religion – I am not sure about British Jedi Knights though).
    It is this attitude of all too many Americans to tell everybody how to behave that makes then so ‘popular’ worldwide. In that attitude you are no different from your warmongering government.

    Personally I agree that attempts to regulate free speech by law and trying to just forbid the nastier lies ( you know who ) and trying to define religion by some ‘establishedness’ clause and/or ask experts from the Big Churches [Roman Catholic or Lutheran together good for more than 50 percent of Germans]if that group that claims to be a church is one or merely a ‘sect’ are futile and do not, in the long run, achieve their aims.

    I suspect you and I and the lawmakers that introduced the laws after the war are essentially in agreement about the aims – only differing in the methods. I ( and presumably you ) think hate-speech is best fought with free information and free access to information for all.
    As for a definition what constitutes a church/religion and what only pretends to be one I think a state should not even try to attempt those definitions – any such definition probably weakens the separation of church and state. ( My refusal of a definition implies that churches would need to pay tax on earnings like any other profit making organizations – simply because the state is unable to tell the difference between a church and a sham. I would also kick out the churches out of the city/state schools for that reason limiting access t minors to the ‘established churches constitutes a state preferment of them over minor ‘unrecognized’ churches)

    That said I have to point out that the laws that are valid here and now are so deeply entrenched in the system that it is near impossible to change them. — In theory articles of the US constitution could be abolished or changed – however that would require a multi-partisan unity of purpose on several levels so it is extremly difficult.
    Likewise a constitutional change would require a 2/3 majority – IIRC in both houses and the conviction of the concerned politicians that this is a change the voters want and the politicians profit from. Plus in case of a change opposing parties might challenge the new letter of the law at the constitutional court.

    I may wish for a change in the law but I don’t see that happen soon.

    Off Topic: reports about self medication and quackery with DCA have hit the German mainstream media.

    Yours IS one of the better blogs and I will continue to read it, however you do not need to do cheap shots like this one.

    Background: the show in question has been running quite long and during its best days always had the top ratings and it is simple and silly and works best with a good host and star guests.

  9. #9 Niobe
    March 31, 2007

    Stuart: You can find proof/ information here: http://www.Xenu.net and: http://www.lermanet.com among many, many others. The latter is from somebody who escaped the cult.

  10. #10 Orac
    March 31, 2007

    Yours IS one of the better blogs and I will continue to read it, however you do not need to do cheap shots like this one.

    Why is it a “cheap shot” to criticize an idiotic attack on free speech like this one? It’s not as though I don’t criticize dangerous attacks on our liberties when I hear about them in the U.S.

    And personally, I agree that churches should have to pay taxes, just like everyone else, especially here in the U.S., where, although their tax-exempt status says they can’t, churches often engage in serious politicking.

  11. #11 Thony C.
    March 31, 2007

    Just watched Mess’rs Travolta, Liotta and Allen do their live publicity appearence on “Wetten Das?” for the film “Born to be Wild”. All totally harmless and absolutely nothing to do with Scientology.

    Orac: I do not understand why Andreas Schaefer thinks that your comments were a cheap shot. I think you were perfectly correct to call attention to Oettinger’s stupidity.

  12. #12 drcharles
    March 31, 2007

    great point. i can’t believe how many scientologists are in hollywood. it amazes me how actors are able to portray such intelligence on screen and then follow such stuff.

  13. #13 HCN
    March 31, 2007

    Dr. Charles said “it amazes me how actors are able to portray such intelligence on screen and then follow such stuff.”

    They are ACTING when they portray intelligence on screen!
    ;)

    (right now I am remembering Jon Lovitz’s character on Saturday Night Live saying “That’s is acting!”)

  14. #14 wrg
    March 31, 2007

    Mr. Schaefer, I’m not sure I understand your thesis about German freedom of religion.

    As for a definition what constitutes a church/religion and what only pretends to be one I think a state should not even try to attempt those definitions – any such definition probably weakens the separation of church and state.

    I am certainly inclined to agree with this opinion. However, if I understand the beginning of your message, you are nonetheless supporting a system that does attempt to draw such distinctions against Orac’s criticism.

    At the end, you seem to be saying that criticism of the system of distinguishing “religions” from “scams” is ineffective due to the difficulty of effecting constitutional change. That may be so, but it does not render such criticism any less valid. If we limit our ideals to what seems practically achievable, we may find them becoming ever worse.

    It is this attitude of all too many Americans to tell everybody how to behave that makes then so ‘popular’ worldwide. In that attitude you are no different from your warmongering government.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but the problem I have with the US is what its government is doing, not that its citizens express their opinions. The problem I have with many Americans is that they support or condone the lies, hypocrisy, and generally selfish policies of many of their leaders. I do not have anything against the many other Americans who do not.

    If I wanted to say something as ill-considered as this, I could claim that it is this attitude of all too many Europeans to devalue freedom of speech that makes them so ‘popular’ in America. That, however, would be foolishness. I recognize that your opinions are your own and that it is simply your opinion that Orac is not entitled to say what he thinks about German government.

    Yes, America is imperfect in maintaining the freedoms to which American ideals traditionally aspire. The current administration even seems actively opposed to them, curtailing personal freedoms, reducing government accountability, and attempting to avoid legislative and judicial oversight. However, it would be a false dilemma to claim that, if the US is not beyond reproach, the “rest of the world” must be just fine. Every nation has its own problems; why may an American not discuss them?

  15. #15 JS
    April 1, 2007

    The right to declare an orginisation potentially unconstitutional is older and goes back to the immediate post war period when the Germans suffered from a reds under the bed syndrome that was only exceeded by the Americans. “Berufsverbot” was used against communists long before the RAF ever existed. Scientology is not recognised as a religion here in Germany and is under observation in some, but not all, German states as an organisation that might be “Verfassungsfeindlich” i.e. a danger to the constitution which is a crimminal offence here.

    Oh. I didn’t realise it went that far back. Thanks for the brush-up.

    - JS

  16. #16 Tracy W
    April 1, 2007

    Andreas Schaefer – I am a New Zealander, not an American or a European and I agree with Orac and wrg that the German official is making an unwarranted interference with freedom of speech.

    And personally I think Americans have every right to criticise officials in other countries, as indeed you and I have every right to criticise officials in America.

  17. #17 James
    April 2, 2007

    Fun fact of the day – as far as I know Germany is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t recognise Scientology as a religion.

    No, I had no other point, except to add my support to fellow Kiwi Tracy’s above statement.

  18. #18 Greg
    April 2, 2007

    According to Wikipedia, “Germany officially recognizes Scientology as a commercial enterprise, and Belgium, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom, remain unconvinced that Scientology is a religion.”

    I agree with Schaefer to an extent, it’s pretty silly to ask why someone fails to understand the simple concepts of freedom of speech and religion when those concepts are not viewed the same way in the country in question. Even in the US, these so-called simple concepts are difficult to parse. Is it an assault on freedom of religion to not allow a parent and child to refuse medical treatment for the child? Why not? Should the proponent of a libelous statement have to prove its truth or should the libeled have to prove its falsity?

    In other words, these are not absolute rights (fire/theater) and what interests should be balanced against them and how are questions of difficult philosophical debate. Germany has drawn the line in a different place than we have. (Britain has too.)

    What this guy said would be tragically comic if he said it within our system (like the guy who said he’d sue over the defacement of the Confederate flag a few weeks ago). Germany, however, has decided that Scientology is a sham religion (like the Church of the Sub-Genius – “The only religion that is proud to pay its taxes!”) and that it is actively working to undermine the German democracy. Their report. I don’t know if what this guy said is equally comic within their system.

  19. #19 Luana
    April 2, 2007

    I agree that Oettinger is an idiot. But he is relying on information passed on to him by some maniacs who are trying since decades to smear the Church of Scientology. Oettinger is a dupe, he is damaging the reputation of Germany all over the world because he believes what some lunatic haters tell him.

  20. #20 Mike
    April 3, 2007

    The Germans don’t have freedom of religion in the sense that you can’t set up a cult, call it a religion and expect them to respect you.

  21. #21 resimler
    December 27, 2007

    There’s something deliciously ironic about a Christian being afraid of Scientologists brainwashing people.