Nicholas Burns on As It Happens, January 30, 1997

On January 31, 1997, I posted the following to alt.religion.scientology. I have made insignificant formatting and stylistic changes for the sake of good HTML.

Hey folks!

Thursday, Jan. 30, 1997, the CBC's flagship current-affairs program, _As It Happens_, ran a piece on the American State Dept. report that slammed Germany for discriminating against Scientologists <tm>. (Some of you Murrikans might have heard the first hour of AIH on NPR.)

The linkman is Barbara Budd, the interviewer Michael Enright, and the State Dept. spokesman Nicholas Burns.

Barbara Budd: The battle between the German government and the Church of Scientology has been simmering for years. Today the U.S. State Department stepped into the fray. Scientologists have long complained of persecution in Germany. Members of the Church are excluded from the major political parties. Some artists have been prevented from performing or displaying their work. And police in Stuttgart have banned the Church from handing out supplies to the homeless. Today the State Department issued its annual human rights report. It blasted the Germans for carrying out a campaign of harrassment and intimidation against the Church of Scientology. Nicholas Burns is a spokesperson for the American State Department and we reached him in Washington.

Michael Enright: Mr. Burns, why has the State Department felt compelled to bring out this report on the human rights record in Germany, particularly as it applies to Scientology?

Nicholas Burns: Well, there are a considerable number of Scientologists who are American citizens who live in Germany, and for the last five years it's been an ongoing debate about whether or not the Scientologists who live there, American and German and others, Canadians, French, are being discriminated against, and we believe based on all the information we've been able to collect from the German government and the Scientologists that there is a pattern of discrimination against Scientologists, particularly in employment, but also in terms of availability of support for the arts; there are a number of Scientologists who are musicians and actors, some of them quite well known: Chick Corea, for instance, Tom Cruise, and there have been actions taken by the German government, actually, against the film Mission: Impossible, which stars Tom Cruise . . .

Enright: Because he - on the basis of his being a Scientologist . . .

Burns: On the basis of the fact of - that's right, that he is a Scientologist, and also, against Chick Corea, there was a withdrawal of, uh -

Enright: The jazz pianist, yeah . . .

Burns: - money for some concerts, so because we have to be concerned with the situation of American citizens we've chosen to, to look into this, and we've had a private discussion with the Germans and we have been mildly critical in public as well.

Enright: Is it the contention of the State Department that this is government-condoned discrimination, or government, uh, generated discrimination?

Burns: Well, it's quite - it's a quite complex situation, actually. Many of the actions taken against the Scientologists in Germany are done by local authorities, sometimes mayors of towns, sometimes by the Lendar [sp?], you know, the regional governments, and in some cases by the federal government in Bonn. But I must say, to be balanced about this, and we want to be fair, this year it was proposed by one of the major political parties in the governmental coalition, that the German security services actually put the Scientologists under police surveillance. And fortunately, the German minister of interior rejected that proposal, he said it was not consistent with German law, so there have been some positive actions taken by the German government just over the course of the last year.

Enright: How does the government defend its contention that Scientology is somehow a threat to the state?

Burns: I, I hesitate to speak for them, but I believe the German government position is, many other Germans believe that Scientology is a sect, not a religion, uh, Germany of course had a terrible experience in the 1930s with fascism, and Germany, German law does ban the activities of certain, what they would perceive to be right-wing or extremist groups. Now we Americans, uh, believe that Scientology is a religion, in fact our Internal Revenue Service gave the Scientology church here in the United States a tax-exempt status, so we look at this as an issue of religious freedom, the Germans tend to look at it as an issue of, um, trying to limit the activities of what they perceive to be a sect, and I believe that's the point of difference between the United States and Germany.

Enright: There is, there's something of an irony here, I think, that in the past Scientologists have accused the American government of persecution.

Burns: Yes.

Enright: And I'm wondering if the fact the State Department has come out with this report indicates some kind of change in attitude, perhaps, towards Scientology?

Burns: Well, Scientology was given tax-exempt status by the federal government here in Washington, DC in 1992, in the autumn of 1992 and since then, because we have treated it as a religion we have an obligation to defend religious freedom when we think it's being abridged, and so I think that the Scientologists understand now, that the U.S. government wants to support the concept of religious freedom, but Michael, there's another interesting side to the story that I feel compelled to bring up. While we've defended the Scientologists, Scientology - the Church of Scientology lately, assisted by a group of Hollywood moguls, these are movie stars -

Enright: Right -

Burns: - entertainments [sic], heads of studios, have taken out full-page advertisements in the New York Times and the Washington Post and the International Herald-Tribune and perhaps even in papers in Canada, uh, essentially saying that the current German government is treating the Scientologists the way that Hitler treated the Jews in the 1930s, and we have come out and said from Washington, that is an outrageous historical inaccuracy - I mean, to compare Helmut Kohl and his government, which is a democratic government, with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis is an abomination, and the German government did not deserve that treatment, the German people don't deserve it, and here we've now gotten into a little bit of an argument with the Scientologists in the United States - they are quite upset that we do not accept their historical claim, but we really have to call them as we see them.

Enright: Well, you have to go a bit further, I think, too, don't you, to compare the discrimination against Scientologists with the incineration of Jews is also something of an outrage . . .

Burns: Oh, it's totally outrageous. What the Scientologists say is that the treatment of the Scientologists is akin to what Hitler did in the first year or two of his power, in 1933 and '34 - what we have reminded the Scientologists is that Dachau, the concentration camp near Munich, was established in 1933, that the German government in 1933, the Nazi government began to strip away the rights of Communists, of the mentally retarded and of Jews in the first year of Hitler's reign, and that that pattern of behaviour, which led to the Holocaust, cannot in any way be compared to what the Scientologists are going through now, and American Jewish organizations I think have been uniform in rejecting this, this claim by the Scientologists.

Enright: When the State Department comes out with a report like this, and talks, uh, about a particular problem involving one of the, one of our allies, NATO ally, ally of the U.S., do people on Pennsylvania Avenue in that big white house get very nervous and upset that you've done this?

Burns: [laughs] . . . actually, we hope that we always are singing off the same sheet of music as our friends in the White House - uh, Mike McCurrie [sp?], who is my colleague - he's the President's spokesman, I'm the State Department spokesman - he and I talk every day and we almost always are uniform in what we say, so there's very little surprise when we say something here at the State Department, very little surprise in the White House.

Enright: But the Chancellor's not going to phone the President and say, "What the hell is going on, why are you criticizing my government about Scientologists?"

Burns: Well actually, we've, you know there have been such conversations, from high-level Germans to high-level Americans, and, and, you know, we understand the sensitivity here. We don't happen to agree with the Germans in this case in every instance, but there's a great deal of respect that we feel for Chancellor Kohl and his government and we try to, we try to speak more in private than in public, that's the rule we follow with Canada, with France, with Britain, with Germany, with very close NATO allies. We don't always succeed as you know, we've had a little argument, dispute with the Canadians just in the last couple weeks on Cuba, but -

Enright: I think I've heard about that, yes -

Burns: [laughs]

Enright: I think I read about that somewhere.

Burns: I think you did too.

Enright: Mr. Burns, thank you, thanks for joining us tonight.

Burns: My pleasure, and you've got a terrific show, I listen whenever I can, so congratulations on that.

Enright: Wonderful. Thanks again. Bye now.

Burns: Bye.

Budd: Nicholas Burns is a spokesman for the American State Department. He spoke to us from Washington, DC.

The following day I called As It Happens' "Talkback" answering machine and made the following statement. I did not hear the program where it would have aired, so I don't know if they played it or not. Probably not. 8-)

"Hi, this is Scott McClare calling from Waterloo, ON. Regarding the interview with Nicholas Burns on German discrimination of Scientologists: I think Mr. Burns should get his story straight. It was not the government that called for a boycott of Mission: Impossible, but the youth organization of one political party - hardly a policy-making body. Second, the reason Chick Corea was denied state funding for a concert was because he openly proselytises for Scientology during his concerts, and the German government is not in the business of funding preaching. Mr. Corea is perfectly welcome to perform in Germany on his own dime.

"In my opinion the Germans have good reason to be wary of Scientologists. Remember, back in the 70s the Church had infiltrated dozens of government agencies in the U.S. and Canada, and stole millions of pages of files on themselves. In the legal aftermath here in Canada, the Church libeled judge Casey Hill, who was then a Crown attorney. The 1.6 million dollar judgement against the Church is the largest in Canadian history, and it was upheld two summers ago by the Supreme Court of Canada. Scientology may be a real religion, but does that excuse them from subverting governments or destroying public employees' reputations? I don't think so.

"Great show, thanks a lot."

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