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Court to decide if Scientology is religion

The Church of Scientology hoped to convince a German court Tuesday that it is a religion and entitled to corresponding benefits such as tax-exempt status and the freedom to recruit followers.

The decision by Germany's highest administrive court could be precedent-setting for the group's legal status across the country and give Scientology stronger grounds for opposing treatment of its members in all of Germany's 16 states.The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology won a legal battle in July when a court in the Baden-Wuerttemberg state capital, Stuttgart, ruled that Scientology was a religious society, not a business, as many critics argue. The state is seeking to overturn the decision in the Berlin court.

The court case could be the first to clarify Scientology's status in Germany, where the government has taken steps to outlaw the group. Scientology said its members suffer discrimination sanctioned by officials who have backed measures against the group, including banning its members from membership in political parties and putting the group under surveillance as a threat to democracy, a step toward seeking an official ban.

Scientology is sponsoring a conference on religious freedom that opened Tuesday at the Hotel Steglitz International in Berlin. The landmark Kempinski Hotel refused to allow the group to use its meeting hall.