For Scientology, History Repeats Itself Again in Hungary

On the 10th anniversary of the Church of Scientology receiving full religious recognition in Spain, World Religion News published an article on the Church’s protracted legal battle in that country and parallels to the current situation in Hungary. Republished with permission of WRN.

Hungarian Scientologists hold a vigil for religious freedom in front of the Church of Scientology Budapest.
Hungarian Scientologists hold a vigil for religious freedom in front of the Church of Scientology Budapest.

It was 10 years ago that a Spanish court ruled to include Scientology in the nation’s registry of religions. The decision gave the Church official recognition as a registered, tax-exempt faith in Spain.

The religion’s victory came after years of effort during which Scientologists suffered repression by the government and police forces. Those difficult days are now being compared to what is happening right now to the Church in Hungary. Many of the aspects of Scientology’s struggle in Spain—police raids, confiscations, harassment—are now mirrored in present-day Hungary.

However, based on what the Church experienced in Spain decades ago, Scientologists share with World Religion News that they see reason for hope in Hungary.

In 1988, the Spanish government launched a 17-year religious freedom challenge on the Church of Scientology that began in November when more than 100 police, armed with automatic weapons, raided a peaceful religious convocation in Madrid of the International Association of Scientologists. Their warrants included instructions to arrest “all foreigners” and so 72 Church members were apprehended.

These included Scientologists from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal and South Africa.

National Court of Spain
National Court of Spain

They also apprehended the Church of Scientology President Heber Jentzsch, recipient of the Nelson Mandela Humanitarian Award for his leadership in the Church’s battle against apartheid in South Africa.

The arrests were caught on camera because the authorities saw fit to alert the media in advance to record the 72 Church members handcuffed and carted to prison. The international press used these images to vilify Scientology and a Spanish judge invited any and all with complaints against the religion to come forward.

Heber Jentzsch was imprisoned for three weeks, initially denied bail, and forced to do his time in life-threatening conditions. He faced up to 66 years in prison. When the court finally did allow for bail, it was set at the onerous figure of $1 million. And when donations met the bail, Mr. Jentzsch had to remain in Spain subjected to further restrictions on his freedom for another four months before being allowed to return to the United States in 1989.

The cases spanned 17 years in Spanish courts, costing the Church tens of millions of dollars.

More than 100 witnesses testified during the evidence phase of the trial, which lasted until September 11, 2001. But the long years of struggle ended on November 28 of that year, when the Provincial Court of Madrid acquitted all the defendants.

Several U.S. congressmen who had criticized what they called a clear case of religious discrimination applauded the verdict. Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman of New York put it succinctly, saying, “I am gratified that the Spanish government has dismissed this case. For too long, this matter has been a blight on our successes in extending religious freedom throughout the world.”

It would take another seven years for the Church to achieve full religious recognition in Spain. The Provincial Court’s decision closed the book on a prosecutorial system that persecuted religious minorities based on General Franco’s edict of “one thought—one religion.”

In a celebratory speech, David Miscavige, Scientology’s ecclesiastical leader, said “this is one of our most significant victories in history.”

Today, Spain is home to thousands of Scientologists and numerous Scientology Churches, Missions and related groups.

Scientology has achieved its status as a world religion, and yet the challenge it suffered in Spain is being repeated right now in Hungary.

A week ago, the Church of Scientology in Budapest was raided by police several times.

The raids were prompted by Hungary’s passage of a religious law in July 2011 which granted recognition to only 14 of the 358 religious organizations in Hungary. Until then, the Church was fully recognized in Hungary. Now Church parishioners and staff have been required to sign a document prohibiting them from talking about this government action for 20 years.

Every new religion has had to struggle against persecution and intolerance, and Scientology—based on its history—is no exception.

Hungary religious freedom Spain