Scientology has attracted several school-aged Danish children to its ranks as a result of compulsory religious instruction in public schools
The new-age religious movement Scientology has been successful in recruiting young new adherents thanks to a campaign aimed at public school students. Schoolteachers and students are increasingly including visits to Scientology centers as part of their required religious education curriculum.
Since 1999, the number of public and high school classes on field trips to Scientology centers in Copenhagen has increased fourfold. While Scientology averaged one class visit per month five years ago, Scientology information director Anette Refstrup told daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten that the movement now entertains a class a week.
"All of the nation's public schools and high schools are listed in our address records and receive our newsletter, 'Freedom.' It's part of our general informational effort, and interest is clearly on the rise. It's typically ninth and tenth-grade students that visit us in connection with their religious instruction. In November this year alone we had 10 clases visit Copenhagen churches. Schools are no longer as anxious about dealing with us, and they're much more curious," said Refstrup.
Erik Nordestgaard, the man in charge of Scientology's guided tours service, told Jyllands-Posten that many young people visited Scientology centers in smaller groups, unaccompanied by teachers, in connection with school projects.
Students are typically given guided tours and a lecture on the movement's basic tenets, after which time they are given printed informational materials and invited to ask questions.
The chairman of the Danish Teachers Association's headmasters' section, Jens Færk, has sharply criticized schoolteachers for visiting Scientology centers as part of basic religious instruction.
"Frankly, I'm surprised to hear that Scientology has registered all of the country's schools and I sincerely hope they throw out their records. It concerns me that more students are being taken along on these visits. Naturally, students need to be informed on new age religious movements, but it's not up to the schools to make it so true to life. Seeking out Scientology is a temptation to weak souls, and it's these same weak souls that Scientology targets," said Færk.
Jens Linderoth, chairman of the Dialogcentret, which provides information to the public on new age religious movements, agrees that the visits are problematic.
"We've noticed that Scientology is registering a higher level of activity than we've seen in a while. It's a problem that they're going deliberately after young people, and that teachers are taking their students on field trips. Teachers need to make clear that this is a movement with secrets that they won't tell you about until you've climbed high up in the hierarchy. Members risk losing all contact with their relatives and loved ones, and end up giving all of their money to Scientology," said Linderoth.
Scientology spokeswoman Anette Refstrup is bewildered by the criticism.
"We're expressly trying to demystify Scientology and provide a broader view of who we are," said Refstrup.