France irritated by US stance on Scientologists

Reuters, Oct 15, 1999

PARIS, Oct 15, 1999 (Reuters) - France publicly expressed irritation on Friday about a U.S. State Department report scorning official French attitudes towards the Church of Scientology.

The French position was outlined by foreign ministry officials to visiting United States Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Robert Seiple, author of a report published last month containing criticism of Paris on the issue.

"This report contained regrettable accusations against France's official Mission for the Fight Against Sects," ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau told reporters.

Rivasseau said Seiple "recognised the unfortunate character of the accusations and took note of the strong French protests on the subject," Rivasseau said.

Questioned on the meeting, a U.S. embassy spokesman said: "We view this dialogue as quite constructive."

French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou last month raised the prospect of banning the Church of Scientology in France.

Officials here view the body with extreme suspicion after three cases where legal documents that could have been used as evidence against the movement in trials for fraud and other offences vanished from courts.

The Church of Scientology has denied any responsibility. It said its opponents were waging a slander campaign by trying to blame administrative blunders on the Church.

Unlike the United States, France does not recognise Scientology as a religion. Members of the group complain of harassment and persecution.

Scientology, founded in 1954 by the late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and based in the United States, claims more than eight million adherents worldwide, including 4,000 in France.

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