French official body slams US over sects

St. Petersburg Times, February 4, 2000

PARIS, Feb 7. 2000 (Reuters) - A French government mission criticised the United States on Monday for being too lax on cults and unfairly blaming France for its harsher stance.

The Interministerial Mission for the Fight Against Sects said in a report delivered to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin that Washington, in the name of religious freedom, was giving excessive protection to cults.

"The confusion maintained across the Atlantic between religious freedom...and prevention, even repression, of punishable sectarian excesses does not make dialogue any easier," the report said.

Paris and Washington clashed last year over a U.S. State Department report scorning official French scepticism about the U.S.-based Church of Scientology.

French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou has raised the prospect of banning the Church of Scientology, which France, unlike the United States, does not regard as a religion.

Members of the group, founded in 1954 by the late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, complain of harassment and persecution in France.

Monday's report said there were some 200 sects in France, most of them well organised. It said those that reject democracy and spread racist ideas must be banned, and called for new legislation against those that violate human rights.

It singled out as dangerous the Order of the Solar Temple doomsday cult, which it said was still active although more than 70 members had died over the past six years in ritualised suicides in Switzerland, France and Canada.

The report called for states in Europe and elsewhere to prevent the development of sects and urged new legislation to fight attacks on national security such as the use of computer viruses.

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