FINAL REPORT OF THE ENQUETE COMMISSION ON "SO-CALLED SECTS AND PSYCHOGROUPS"
6 Opinion and recommendations for action
During the two years of its work (from May 1996 to May 1998), the German Bundestag's Enquete Commission on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups" conducted the most intensive analysis -- in both quantitative and qualitative terms -- ever performed in German-language countries with regard to the phenomenon of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. This analysis concentrated on the new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups (i.e. the organised, firmly institutionalised part of the phenomenon) and on the often informal environment which necessarily had to be included (i.e. the so-called psychomarket, the life-counselling market and services available, mixed forms between groups with (allegedly) religious and ideological objectives and commercial enterprises, and finally pyramid selling operations. The analysis was primarily focused on the risks and conflicts occurring in this context. The Commission wanted to identify these risks and conflicts in order to realistically assess the risk potential and initiate measures providing information and prevention, as well as protection and support. Many of the Enquete Commission's findings are based on earlier studies and reports published by governmental agencies (reports submitted by the German Federal Government and by the state-level governments) and groups in society (Churches, trade unions, etc.) and are seen as a continuation of these efforts.
Since the approach adopted by the Enquete Commission was focused on problems and conflicts, the Commission did not compile a list of the groups involved.
The Commission's findings can be briefly summarised as follows: The phenomenon of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups, which in terms of the number of people involved represents a minority in society, is associated with a conflict potential which far exceeds its quantitative dimension.
This is primarily due to the quality -- i.e. the creation, scope, objectives, and consequences -- of the commitment and the resulting impact on the individuals' lives. In addition, there are some groups with a large potential for triggering political conflicts.
What can be said at present with a high degree of certainty is this:
The personal conflicts resulting from such commitments and obligations for the individual and his or her immediate social environment are clearly predominant.
Such conflicts affect marriage and family life, the relationship between parents and children, physical and mental health, financial obligations, etc. The conflicts arising in this context as well as their implications and consequences also involve legal aspects, in rare cases even aspects of criminal law. Such commitments or ties in the field of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups including their entire environment usually do not develop unilaterally; i.e. they do not come about as a result of potentially manipulative recruitment and conversion strategies of groups and their protagonists. There are individuals who seek out such groups to find answers to problems of their personal and social life, and to questions about the meaning of life; and for this reason, they are willing to accept more or less intensive bonds and obligations. There are more people, however, who accept a commitment that is limited in time, while only a minority is willing to commit themselves permanently. This can involve considerable problems and risks; however, the (potential) gains for the individual and for society must also be borne in mind.
A key finding of the Enquete Commission's work in this context is that there is no typical "biography of sect members". Instead, it is necessary to consider the entire biography of an individual in order to understand why he or she turned to new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. The Commission has found that when individuals join such communities, they try to come to grips with a biographical problem, with varying degrees of success. A key term in this context is the "fit". 327 ) Greater attention should be paid to such biographically relevant aspects in the public debate.
Children and adolescents as members of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups are a separate subject. Without ignoring the problems of a close, rigid and final socialisation, one has to avoid sweeping statements. In addition, parents are entitled to choose religious education for their children; one-sided modern concepts of education and life should certainly not be given preference over traditionally motivated concepts. 328 ) The legal instruments currently available are sufficient to intervene when children are exposed to a real psychological or physical jeopardy. However, these instruments must of course become better known and be more effectively applied. 329 )
The undeniable religious and ideological motives and implications of membership in new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups impose limits on the scope for governmental action. Pursuant to Art. 4 of the German Constitution, government is obliged to be neutral and tolerant in respecting the decisions of individuals with regard to their religious beliefs. However, government is obliged to act whenever basic rights of citizens are violated. In addition, government is entitled to, and should, take preventive action by informing the public about possible risks. 330 )
Even if individuals accept ties or commitments that are limited in terms of time or scope (e.g. offers made in the "psychomarket" and life-counselling services), this may have far-reaching consequences of a psychological or financial nature, for instance. Without generalising, it can be said that at least some of the methods and therapies practised in so-called "psychogroups" or available in the psycho-market are major interventions in the human psyche, so that people may suffer psychological or physical harm, either because of problems involved in the methods and therapies themselves or because of improper application of these methods and therapies.
The assumption of a "conversion by sects" using their own "psychotechnics" such as "brain/soul washing" or "psychomutation" must be refuted in favour of more broadly-based models. 331 ) Nevertheless, membership in new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups may lead to massive psychosocial dependency, especially when this is promoted by the practice of certain methods and forms of treatment. While the individual's own activity and self-determination are not obliterated under such circumstances, they can be seriously curtailed. Unstable, vulnerable and premorbid individuals may be at particular risk in this situation.
Deliberate criminal acts and behaviour can be observed, and such acts and behaviour are prompted in some groups by substantial tensions between the inside and the outside world which lead to a potential or latent propensity for crime; however, this aspect plays a secondary role with regard to the conflicts mentioned above that relate to the individual and his or her immediate social environment.
Only some of the new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups are highly prone to conflict. In this context, the dynamics of a group's development must also be taken into account, i.e. the question of whether a group is opening itself to the outside world, becoming a part of everyday life, etc. or whether it is closing itself off, becoming increasingly radical, etc. During its hearings of the groups concerned, the Enquete Commission found out that some of the groups which were regularly referred to as highly problematic in the past had at least initiated and launched processes that were leading to change and an opening. One has to wait and see how these groups will continue to develop.
At any rate, the Commission would like to warn against perpetuating group classifications that have once been established. However, it may also happen that less conflict-prone groups become involved in major conflicts which have severe ramifications for the lives of their members, e.g. in the course of religious/ideological conversion processes and the resulting changes in the lives of individuals and communities.
According to the German Bundestag's decision to establish the Enquete Commission, the latter was asked specifically to study group structures, activities and objectives. As far as this is concerned, one can say that the new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups are not much different from major religions, religious groups and ideological communities or from other groups in society in this respect. The claim to impose binding rules on the individual's life-style (which is particularly common among religious and ideological groups) and the associated emphasis on authority, tradition, etc. may involve a latent conflict-proneness, which is not problematic in itself. However, an accumulation of such characteristics -- e.g. a substantial differential in terms of authority, substantial tensions between the inside and the outside world ("isolation" and "insulation"), "dissident views of the world" and "deviant life-styles", the development of totalising anticultures and subcultures -- can considerably aggravate conflicts. This applies to the activities and objectives pursued by groups if there is a major difference between alleged objectives and real, possibly concealed objectives. 332 ) Groups which are particularly conflict-prone in that sense, i.e. groups with a quasi notorious propensity to get involved in conflicts can give rise to governmental warnings and preventive action. However, it is indispensable to have recourse to specific concrete cases. Such cases may call for governmental intervention.
The phenomenon of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups including their formal and informal social environment and the conflicts observed in connection with these groups are a reflection -- and in some cases a highly concentrated one -- of cultural changes in society with regard to values, convictions, traditions, religious/ideological affiliations, options and proposals. These changes, which are a result of modernisation and some of which are occurring at an ever faster pace, create considerable problems of orientation for individuals and groups. This poses a considerable challenge for all relevant groups in society (the Churches and religious communities, the trade unions, industrial associations, and the political parties) to provide orientation in the intellectual and political debate. 333 )
From the perspective of society as a whole, the new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups do not pose a threat for government or society, or for any of the relevant domains in society. However, the activities of some radical organisations suggest that it is advisable for government to remain vigilant in order to intervene, if this proves to be necessary.
This applies in particular to what is offered in the psychomarket and the life-counselling market, as well as personality development seminars, management consulting, pyramid selling operations and multi-level marketing companies, with so-called "snowball systems" as their most extreme form. Sometimes it may be difficult to distinguish between new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups on the one hand, and training or direct selling companies on the other.
In many respects, the Scientology Organisation plays a special role. There are some aspects of this organisation which match some of the elements just mentioned; i.e. these are cases where the Scientology Organisation is a particularly blatant example of attributes which can also be found elsewhere. On the other hand, however, the Scientology Organisation is so different from any of the other groups that it seems justified -- at least to some extent -- to put the Scientology Organisation into a separate category. In that respect, the aspects found in the Scientology Organisation cannot be applied to other groups. As far as the Enquete Commission is concerned, the Scientology Organisation is not a religious group.
Based on its assessment of the current situation and considering the legal aspects discussed primarily in the previous chapter, the Enquete Commission on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups" would like to submit the recommendations for action listed below.
The Enquete Commission recommends that the German Bundestag should not amend or supplement Art. 4 of the German Constitution.
The Enquete Commission recommends that the German Bundestag should not amend or supplement Art. 140 of the German Constitution / Art. 137 (5) of the Weimar Constitution.
The Enquete Commission recommends that the 14th German Bundestag should establish a foundation under public law to be entrusted with the tasks listed in 18.104.22.168 above and to be financed jointly by the German Federal Government and by Germany's state-level governments.
Based on the findings (described in Chapter 22.214.171.124) of its hearing of constitutional experts, the Commission does not share the German Federal Government's view that the introduction of a legal regime for the provision of public funds for private counselling and information centres is not compatible with the principles laid down in the German Constitution. Basic rights may create a direct obligation for government to ensure that a legally protected right -- in particular an individual's life and physical integrity -- is not violated unlawfully by third parties, including private individuals. 335 )
For this reason, the Commission calls upon the 14 th German Bundestag to adopt a legal regime which will explicitly introduce and permit direct public funding of private institutions.
The Enquete Commission recommends that during its next legislative period the German Bundestag should begin deliberations on, and adopt, a federal act governing contracts in the field of commercial life-counselling services, based on the bill introduced by the Bundesrat (the second chamber of the German parliament) (Bundestag Doc. 13/9717).
The Enquete Commission has found that legal policy debate on this issue is still in its infancy. The discussion draft presented (see Chapter 126.96.36.199) and the German Federal Government's pending answer to the written question submitted by the parliamentary group of the SPD (Bundestag Doc. 13/9682) will probably call for in-depth deliberations.
For this reason, the Commission recommends that the 14th German Bundestag should begin deliberations on the introduction of a legislation on responsibility under criminal law for legal entities and associations of persons; such legislation should make it possible to punish, reprimand, or impose other sanctions on, criminal enterprises, associations or other groups of persons.
In view of the increasing use of pyramid games which do malicious harm to the public (see Chapter 188.8.131.52), the Enquete Commission recommends that the 14th German Bundestag should make the initiation of, and participation in, such games a separate criminal offence, notwithstanding Section 6c of the German Fair Trade Act (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb -- UWG).
The Enquete Commission suggests that during the upcoming deliberations on the Bundesrat's "Bill on the Exercise of the Profession of Financial and Insurance Services Intermediaries, and on the Establishment of an Advisory Board Attached to the Bundesaufsichtsamt für das Kreditwesen (German Federal Banking Supervisory Office) (Bundestag Doc. No. 13/9421 of 29 Jan. 1998), the 14th German Bundestag should examine whether the scope of application of this legislation can be extended to include pyramid selling and multi-level marketing systems. As described above (see Chapter 5.3), there is not only a "grey capital market" but there is also a confusing services market which is not only limited to financial services. The purpose of this modification in the proposed legislation would be to reduce the legal uncertainty that currently prevails for the individuals affected.
The Enquete Commission recommends that the German Federal Government should assign the following responsibilities to the Federal Administrative Office by adding a separate provision in the Act on the Establishment of the Federal Administrative Office (BVAG -- Gesetz über die Einrichtung des Bundesverwaltungsamtes), in line with the current systematic approach already adopted:
The Federal Administrative Office shall act as an information and documentation centre with the name of "new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups".
More specifically, the Federal Administrative Office shall have the following responsibilities:
The legal uncertainty prevailing in the field of association law, as described in Chapter 184.108.40.206, calls for the adoption of more precise provisions.
For this reason, the Enquete Commission recommends that the 14th German Bundestag should amend the current association law in order to ensure that the activities of religious communities shall not be unconstitutional. In this context, it will have to be examined whether in future it will be possible to dispense with the exemption of religious communities from the scope of application of the Associations Act (Section 2 (2) clause 3 of the Associations Act).
In addition, care must be taken to ensure that only associations which show a modicum of loyalty vis-à-vis the German Constitution and the German legal system will enjoy benefits such as the recognition of their non-profit status for tax purposes.
The Enquete Commission recommends that the 14 th German Bundestag should clearly define what the "art of healing" is by including the following wording in the Act on Non-medical Practitioners:
Section 1(2) of the Act on Non-medical Practitioners: "The art of healing, as defined in this law, shall be any professional or business activity aimed at identifying, healing or relieving diseases, ailments or physical injuries of people, also when such activity is exercised by individuals employed by third parties. In this context, it shall be sufficient if the impression is created in the minds of the treated individuals that the activity is aimed at healing or at least relieving the ailments mentioned above."
The Enquete Commission suggests that the German Bundestag should examine
the possibility of introducing "healing fraud" as a criminal offence in
the fraud provisions of the German Penal Code. In order to clarify
existing rules, a provision should be added to cover those cases in
which patients are deceived with regard to the effectiveness of
a. Act on Religious Education of Children and legal provisions regarding the relationship between parents and children in the German Civil Code
The Enquete Commission recommends that only a single new provision should be added to the legal provisions on the relationship between parents and children currently in effect: In the framework of the provisions regarding personal custody, as laid down in the German Civil Code, the German Bundestag should add a provision which -- in line with the wording of Section 1631(2) of the German Civil Code (legal restrictions imposed on educational measures in the framework of provisions governing personal custody) -- should prohibit not only humiliating practices and methods in connection with religious activities but also practices and methods which have considerable adverse effects on the child's health or psychological well-being.
Aside from this, there is no need to adopt a newly codified act because, pursuant to Articles 123 (1) and 125 (1) of the German Constitution, the Act on Religious Education of Children continues to be in effect as federal law. In conceptual, substantive and systematic terms, the Act on Religious Education of Children is in principle connected with personal custody law as laid down in Sections 1626ff. of the German Civil Code.
As a result, the only action required is to remedy the shortcomings with regard to the application of the Act on Religious Education of Children. To this end, the Enquete Commission feels that it would be sufficient if relevant specialist publishers of legal texts gave the Act on Religious Education of Children a more conspicuous position in commonly used compilations of laws.
b) Harmonisation at European level of legal provisions regarding the relationship between parents and children
The Enquete Commission recommends that the 14th German Bundestag should authorise the German Federal Government to initiate the development of directives at European level designed to harmonise legal provisions regarding the relationship between parents and children, in particular the approximation of custody rules at European level.
The Enquete Commission welcomes the fact that, after 20 years of deliberations, it has been possible to pass the Act on Psychotherapists, both in the German Bundestag and in the Bundesrat (i.e. the second chamber of the German parliament). The Enquete Commission calls upon the legislator to ensure that the intentions of the legislator will not be thwarted by means of implementing regulations adopted by licensing authorities and committees.
In addition, it is necessary to ensure the availability of sufficient psychotherapeutic care, based on scientifically recognised methods, in particular for the treatment of psychomarket victims, individuals who suffered damage from esoterics, or who have left new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. Furthermore, it should be ensured that there is a variety of methods using psychotherapeutic approaches which have stood up to scrutiny in theory and practice.
In its Interim Report, the Enquete Commission already pointed out that it welcomed the observation of the Scientology Organisation by Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and by the relevant state- level offices. This observation should be continued.
The Enquete Commission calls upon the German Federal Government to work towards an intensification of the international exchange of information at governmental and ministerial level with regard to problems associated with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. At European level, it is also recommendable to examine whether -- in co-operation with the bodies of the European Union -- major activities such as the evaluation of cross-border activities or governmental information work can be better co-ordinated by establishing a European information centre. As far as criminal activities are concerned, information should be exchanged via Europol.
The Enquete Commission calls upon the 14 th German Bundestag to discuss the problems associated with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups in the framework of its working contacts with parliamentary bodies of other countries and international organisations in order to achieve a better exchange of information and views at this level as well.
The Enquete Commission calls upon the German Federal Government to work towards the adoption of a common approach in the European Union towards the phenomenon of new religious and ideological communities and psycho-groups.
The Enquete Commission feels that the laws currently in force are sufficient to deal with problems in connection with occultism and Satanism (e.g. bodily injury, duress, protection of children and young persons); for this reason, the Enquete Commission believes that there is no need for action in the field of legislation. However, the laws in effect should be applied more consistently.
In addition, the Enquete Commission makes the following recommendations with regard to the non-commercial sector of occultism:
The legislation currently in force in the fields of criminal law and business law (e.g. usury) also provide a sufficient basis to deal with the commercial sector of occultism. Current loopholes will be closed by the Act on Commercial Life-counselling Services.
Furthermore, the Enquete Commission makes the following recommendations:
The Enquete Commission recommends that the measures specified in Chapter 4.3 should be implemented in the field of education and continuing education.
The Enquete Commission recommends that the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft -- DFG) should initiate an interdisciplinary research association to deal with the following issues:
The following disciplines should participate in this interdisciplinary research project: social sciences, cultural studies, humanities, economics, religious studies, theology, medicine, and law. The purpose of this research would be to establish or intensify basic research in the fields mentioned above.
The Enquete Commission recommends that Germany's state-level governments should bring their influence to bear on universities and other higher education institutions to ensure that the latter will pay greater attention to research into "new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups", so that they create research capacity for these issues by advertising vacancies in the departments concerned and appointing the staff needed.
Applied research (i.e. the translation of findings from basic research into practice) -- like basic research -- has not benefited from any systematic promotion in the past. The Fachhochschulen (specialised colleges of higher education) should also be addressed in this context. Particular attention should be paid to the following fields of applied research:
The Enquete Commission feels that the services available in the psychomarket should be objectively described and assessed to create transparency for the consumer. The Enquete Commission calls on the professional associations of health care professionals and on consumer protection centres, etc. to perform such assessments. They should be supported by government in such efforts.
Since it is in the interest of government and society that conflicts between new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups on the one hand and their social environment on the other should be limited and that such conflicts should be handled in accordance with the law currenly in force, the Enquete Commission recommends that one of the responsibilities of the foundation suggested in Chapter 220.127.116.11 above should be mediating between the parties to a conflict.
Since the term "sect" is unclear and misleading, as described in Chapter 2, the Enquete Commission feels that it would be desirable to stop using the term "sect" in the context of the public debate about new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. In future, the term "sect" should be avoided in particular in publications of public bodies, be they information brochures, court judgements, or laws.
Instead, the Commission proposes that a more differentiated terminology should be used -- similar to the terms used in this Report -- even if such terminology can only be of a preliminary nature in view of the need for further scientific research in this problem area.
The Enquete Commission recommends that the 14 th German Bundestag should adopt a decision obliging the German Federal Government to submit two progress reports regarding the implementation of the recommendations for action put forward in this Final Report, the first one 2 years and the second one 4 years after the adoption of this Final Report.
326 ) Cf. the minority opinion of the members of the working group of the SPD's parliamentary group in the Enquete Commission on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups" Ursula Caberta y Diaz, Alfred Hartenbach, MP, Dr. habil. Hansjörg Hemminger, Renate Rennebach MP, Gisela Schröter MP, Dr. Bernd Steinmetz, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Zinser, p. 301.
327 ) Cf. Chapter 3.6 as well as the Annex.
328 ) Cf. Chapter 5.2.
329 ) Cf. Chapter 18.104.22.168.
330 ) Cf. Chapters 2 and 4.1.
331 ) Cf. Chapter 3.6, as well as the Annex and especially Chapter 5.1.
332 ) Cf. Chapter 3.3.
333 ) Cf. Chapter 3.1.
334 ) Cf. minority opinion of the working group of the SPD's parliamentary group in the Enquete Commission on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups", p. 301.
335 ) Cf. Hesse, K.: Bedeutung der Grundrechte, in: Benda, E./ Maihofer, W./Vogel, H-J. (ed.), Handbuch des Verfassungsrechts der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2nd edition, Berlin and elsewhere., 1994, Section 5, para. 50.
336 ) A list of specific research issues in this context can be found in the Commission's Interim Report, Bundestag Doc. 13/8170, p. 27.