French Assembly OKs Legislation to Control Sects

Reuters, June 22, 2000

PARIS (Reuters) - The French National Assembly unanimously passed a bill to crack down on sects Thursday, provoking protests from Scientologists and the Unification Church.

The bill created a specific criminal offense of ``mental manipulation,'' or brainwashing. It set up procedures for courts to ban a group regarded as a sect and said banned groups which re-formed under another name would face criminal sanctions.

The bill also provides for sects, as well as individual members, to be punished for fraud, illegal practice of medicine, wrongful advertising or sexual abuse.

Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou hailed the bill as ``a significant advance giving a democratic state the legal tools to efficiently fight groups abusing its core values.''

Minority religious groups reacted angrily.

Danielle Gounod, spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology which is under close scrutiny by the French authorities, said the bill would ``sound the death knell for French democracy.''

``I say: Watch out. Watch out for individual liberties. Such a law is extremely serious for individual freedom,'' she told a news conference.

Unlike in the United States, Scientology is not regarded in France as a religion and members complain of harassment and persecution. Guigou has raised the prospect of banning it.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church said France's attitude had caused protests across the world.

The French bill, which still has to go through the Senate, had been proposed by an Interministerial Mission for the Fight Against Sects.

The mission, in a report published last February, said there were some 200 sects in France, most of them well organized.

It said those that rejected democracy and spread racist ideas had to be banned, 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.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.