WASHINGTON (Reuter) -- The U.S. State Department Thursday blasted the Church of Scientology over what it called an "outrageous charge" in a New York Times advertisement that the German government pursued Nazi-type practices.
The church bought a full-page advertisement in Thursday's New York Times to highlight a long-running dispute with Germany's government over its policy toward Scientologists.
The advertisement, headlined "Practicing Religious Intolerance" and "Germany Then and Now" above the eagle and swastika insignia of Hitler's Third Reich, described Germany as the only country in the world that systematically discriminates against Scientologists.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the department had spoken out in the past against Bonn's treatment of Scientologists, including in its annual human rights report.
"But something happened today that we as an ally of Germany have to be disturbed about," he told reporters. "The Scientologists ... took out an advertisement ... which accused the German government of Nazism and accused them of Nazi-type practices."
"This is an outrageous charge against the German government by an American group. It bears no resemblance to the facts of what's going on there. The language used is needlessly provocative and not constructive, given the history of Germany," Burns said. "We do not wish to see a friend of the United States treated this way."
In recent months, German officials have said Scientology should be banned or at least placed under covert surveillance. Scientology is not considered a religion in Germany and the government says it exploits the gullible for profit.
Scientology was founded in 1954 by the American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who said he had discovered Dianetics, or the science of mental health.
"You may wonder why German officials discriminate against Scientologists," the advertisement said. "There is no legitimate reason, but then there was none that justified the persecution of the Jewish people either."
It said that in the 1930s the Nazi pronouncement that Judaism was not a true religion was used as justification for persecuting Jews, 6 million of whom died in the Holocaust.
Members of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Party demonstrated this summer against the distribution of the movie "Mission: Impossible" because its star, Tom Cruise, is a Scientologist. And American jazz pianist Chick Corea was barred from performing at a state-sponsored concert in Bavaria.
In a news release, the Church of Scientology said the advertisement was the first in a series that would run twice a week indefinitely in a bid to heighten awareness of "growing authoritarian suppression of religious liberty in Germany."
Burns said the U.S. government would continue to speak out publicly about problems the Scientologists faced in Germany. "But this advertisement is way over the top," he said.
Burns said he was not criticizing The New York Times for printing the advertisement. He added that he was not aware of any protest so far by the German government over the ad.
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