Scientology Showdown: Dump Travolta, German Says

A German Politician Has Demanded a Popular TV Show Dump John Travolta as a Guest Because He Is a Scientologist

By CHRISTEL KUCHARZ

March 31, 2007 —

A German official is demanding that John Travolta be uninvited from a guest appearance on a popular German television show tonight because he's a Scientologist, but show officials insist he will appear as scheduled.

Guenther Oettinger, the state governor of Baden-Wuerttemberg, wants Travolta off "Wanna Bet?" a popular show in Germany seen by an average of approximately 13 million viewers. The show contestants perform unusual stunts while celebrities, such as Travolta, bet on their outcome.

ABC has bought American rights for the show and is expected to debut a U.S. version later this year.

Oettinger, a popular Christian Democrat politician, was quoted by German papers as requesting that the show's producers take Travolta off the show because of the actor's membership in the Church of Scientology.

"By inviting Mr. Travolta to appear on your show, you're offering this organization a platform to address millions of viewers," Oettinger was quoted as saying in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "Mr. Travolta is a well-known member of that organization, which has only recently opened a new office here, and many people, parents in particular, are concerned about Scientologists and their aims."

Oettinger was unavailable for comment to ABCNEWS.com, but his spokesman, Thomas Strobl, said he stood by his published comments.

Oettinger's suggestion was rebuffed by Thomas Bellut, programming director for the German network ZDF, which will air "Wanna Bet?" as planned with Travolta as a guest tonight.

Alexander Stock, a ZDF spokesman, told ABCNEWS.com, "Mr. Travolta will appear, of course. To uninvite him from the show would have given the Church of Scientology an undesired attention and would have caused more damage than to have him on the show. Mr. Travolta's management has agreed that the actor will not talk about that controversial subject."

In 1997, Germany's authorities assessed Scientology as a potentially unconstitutional organization, which meant that the group's followers were subjected to elaborate surveillance measures.

Today, surveillance still is in place in German states, including Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Oettinger's Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Sabine Weber, vice president of Scientology in Germany, told ABCNEWS.com, "I was shocked when I heard Mr. Oettinger attacking John Travolta because of his membership in the Church of Scientology. I find it embarrassing for our country to have a politician discriminate an international celebrity such as John Travolta because of his religious beliefs."

After years of relative quiet, the Church of Scientology has started what appears to be a new information offensive in Germany, opening new offices in major cities.

In January, the organization's German headquarters opened in the capital, Berlin, just around the corner from the German parliament.

Ever since, friendly young people have been fanning out in the German capital in an apparent attempt to win over passers-by, students or tourists to the teachings of the Church of Scientology. They are quick to point out they are "combating their discrimination" by established churches and authorities.

German intelligence agencies, observing that Scientology seems to have become much more self-confident in public, are responding.

In Stuttgart, officials greeted the organization's attempts to set up a newer and larger branch with an intense campaign to offer citizens more information about the controversial group.

In Hamburg, Germany's domestic intelligence agency used undercover agents and intelligence methods such as surveillance and wiretapping phone calls.

In Berlin, officials have yet to decide whether or not statements in connection with the new Scientology headquarters' opening provide enough ground for taking up monitoring of the organization again.