Church provokes unholy row

BBC News, February 28, 2000

Plans for an evangelical church to move into a dilapidated Parisian theatre is turning the spotlight on an official clampdown on what the French authorities are describing as dangerous, religious sects.

Three weeks ago, a government committee recommended dissolving the Church of Scientology there on the grounds that its activities threatens public order.

The latest target is an evangelical church, which promises to cure diseases, including Aids.


It hails from Brazil and has only a few hundred followers in Paris, but its small size has not stopped the authorities from being worried.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which has millions of followers in Brazil, its own TV channel and a football team, is one of about 200 groups who have been branded dangerous by a recent parliament report.

A group of local protestors led by the district mayor have been demonstrating outside the theatre near the 10th arrondissement, brandishing banners with the slogan "No religious sects", in an attempt to prevent the building being occupied. 'Mind control' The religious row comes weeks after a government committee branded the Church of Scientology a "totalitarian" sect that keeps files containing personal information on its members.

The committee said while it opposed a blanket ban on sects, it favoured banning dissolving "extremely dangerous" organisations.

One of the report's authors, French MP Jacques Yard, told the BBC that churches such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God should not be allowed to operate in France because they "try to control people's minds".

He is in no doubt that such organisations are dangerous - not least, he says, because they extort money from their followers.

But the Brazilian church says it is the target of a witch-hunt. It says the government's labelling of the church a sect is unfair.

Father Pedro told the BBC that sects are usually used to describe people who exploit their members but his followers are just ordinary Christians who assemble to pray to Jesus.

Too slow

Michel Ottawa, deputy mayor of the area where the cinema is located, is critical of the Mayor Tibiae saying that his pledge to ensure a sect-free Paris has come too late.

He says Mr Tibiae was informed of a number of religious organisation establishing themselves in Paris years ago and was slow to act.

Last year, a US Government report expressed concern over the growing intolerance shown to minority religious groups in some European countries, including France and Germany.

Built in 1874, the theatre at the centre of the latest controversy - La Scale - once played host to France's greatest artists of the Belle Époque.

It is located on the Grandes Boulevards - once the city's most elegant shopping and dining area. Stretching from the Opera to the red light district of Saint-Denis, the Boulevards have fallen on hard times.

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