Judges in Switzerland have ruled against Scientology in a defamation case they brought against two activists. The three-year legal battle involved the Church of Scientology Basel, the Swiss Department of Health and Scientology spokespeople Jürg Stettler and Dierk Clausen and resulted in an embarrassing loss for the Church.
During the pandemic, Scientology Volunteer Ministers were called to action around the world and asked to distribute a booklet titled ‘How to Keep Yourself and Others Well’. Produced by the Church of Scientology, the booklet contains basic hygiene advice such as how to wash your hands and sanitise surfaces and information on social distancing and face masks. The Church claims it distributed over 5 million copies of the booklet worldwide, with Scientologists visiting shops, restaurants and government buildings through a mass community outreach program.
Beat and Yolanda Künzl, who lead an anti-Scientology group called FASA (Free Anti-Scientology Activists) were contacted by concerned business owners in Switzerland after being visited by Volunteer Ministers. According to them, the Scientologists distributing the booklets had claimed it was produced with the co-operation of the Swiss Department of Health.
Aiming to seek confirmation on whether or not this was true, FASA contacted the Health Department with the allegations, asking whether the government had any input on the Scientology booklet. The response made it clear there was no such co-operation between the Swiss government and the Church.
FASA posted the government’s response on Facebook, which Scientology claimed was defamatory and filed suit in Basel against Beat and Yolanda. The move backfired.. Three years later, an evidentiary hearing was finally held and on 21st September 2023, judges ruled against the Church and dismissed the case.
On the day of the hearing, Scientology’s spokesman for Germany and Switzerland Jürg Stettler attended court alone with no legal representation – a move the Künzls say suggests Scientology were confident they would win and could save on costly lawyers.
During the hearing, it was argued that Mr. Stettler was the head of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) in Switzerland, which he claimed was not true despite engaging in media interviews under this title.
Scientology intimidation tactics
Lawyers for the activism group cited the Scientology Ethics book and the German Constitutional Protection Service in their case, arguing the Church “wants to take criminal proceedings against our clients in order to intimidate them, cause them financial damage and to discredit them by making a criminal investigation public.” They went on to claim “Scientology’s goal is to infiltrate the economy in order to expand its sphere of influence in society.”
The court ruled against the Church, acquitting Mr. and Mrs. Künzl of all charges with judges emphasising the courage FASA had shown in writing to the Federal Office of Public Health and noted the public interest attached to the case.
Excerpt from the defence lawyers’ plea:
Scientology definition of ethics
In the traditional understanding, ethics means a positive, formative moral theory. According to Hubbard, however, ethics is synonymous with total obedience and oppression. Hubbard’s concept of ethics is committed to strict “black and white thinking”. “Good” is only what benefits Scientology and its spread; “bad,” “evil,” or “unethical” is what stands in the way of the organization’s spread. This ideology runs through the entire organizational structure of Scientology. The “good guys” have to be constantly distinguished from the “bad guys,” and the supposedly “bad guys” have to be tracked down, exposed, fought against and eliminated.
To enforce its ethics, the SO has numerous regulations, the ethics guidelines. In Scientology, precise compliance is enforced through the threat and implementation of harsh sanction measures. Ethics officers from the Ethics Department, an Ethics Court and an Evidence Committee are responsible for monitoring.
The ethics guidelines also encourage informing. Every Scientologist should submit regular knowledge reports if he or she learns of behavior by another Scientologist that is “unethical” from the perspective of Scientology. Scientology thus strives for the greatest possible control over its members.
Goal: Infiltration of the economy and society
Scientology’s goal is also to infiltrate the economy in order to expand its sphere of influence in society. The World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE), an umbrella organization of Scientology-run companies, serves this purpose.
While Scientology used to advertise itself openly, today it also hides behind front organizations. At first glance there is no apparent connection with Scientology. Messages on various social and political topics should be conveyed to society undetected.”
Since the private plaintiffs would now like to argue that this is not correct, that they only have the good of humanity in mind and that it is probably a misunderstanding, I will also quote Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard himself from the book “Introduction to the Ethics of Scientology” on the subject of law and the legal system, and what Scientology seems to think of our democratic legal systems (book has already been handed over to the court for viewing):
“Society today seems to be designed in such a way that any sleazy villain can torpedo any capable person and is even supported by those in power.
This alone could bring about the downfall of a civilization, as the rewards of being proficient are made inadequate by the disadvantage of sleazy criminals, bums and degraded beings shooting around at their whim, abetted by their protectors and sponsors – “the legal system” and the modern governments.
Infected by their criminal associates themselves, the police and court systems are therefore made up mostly of down-and-out people who couldn’t make it in life any other way.
There is little intention to administer law in a way that enables individuals to improve. There is full intent to punish and create misery.
Legal systems thus become a kind of cancer that eats away at every great ambition and achievement of decent citizens.” (Quotes from L. Ron Hubbard, Introduction to the Ethics of Scientology, Glostrub (Denmark) 2007, p. 391 f.)
In the current case, too, the suspicion arises that Scientology wants to take criminal proceedings against my clients in order to intimidate them, cause them financial damage and to discredit them by making a criminal investigation public.
My clients have been repeatedly critical of Scientology for several years and have tried to shed light on this organization. This annoys Scientology enormously. On the Scientology Basel Facebook page, the two are repeatedly complained about, they are accused of spreading fake news and they are described as “religious racists” and “fanatics”. There are also repeated attempts to lump them together with the GAgS in order to accuse them of being close to violent people and people with criminal convictions. My clients are accused by Scientology of not accepting religious freedom. At the same time, my clients’ exercise of freedom of expression does not seem to be accepted. The possibility of education, criticism and free expression of opinion, However, religious or ideological groups are also central to democracy. This context must be taken into account when we now turn to the specific allegations against my clients.”Künzl v Scientology-Kirche Basel, September 2023 [translated from German]
Scientology has 10 days from 21st September to appeal the court’s decision. We will of course keep you updated on any changes to the case.
You can read the court’s original ruling in German, and the translated English version below: