The Children of God/The Family Court Cases in France, 1991-2000
From 1991 to 1993, French police conducted a secret but extensive investigation of The Family, code-named "Operation Moses".
On June 9th, 1993, at 6 A.M., two hundred heavily armed police staged brutal raids on two Family communities in Eguilles and Lyon. Authorities arrested 22 adults and placed 80 children in state custody. Family members were accused of child abuse, child prostitution, and not providing medical and physical care for their children. Over 200 officers brandishing axes and automatic weapons entered the homes at dawn and 50 adults and 90 children were taken into custody. Police searched Family residences for 10 hours and found no evidence of criminal activity. Court-appointed doctors thoroughly examined all the children, but detected no signs of neglect or abuse.
Authorities released all the adults after 48 hours for lack of evidence of criminal wrongdoing. On June 16th, all 33 children in Lyon were returned to their parents. The Prosecuting Attorney of Lyon appealed this resolution, requesting that the custody of the children be retained by the State. The Appeal's Court dismissed this appeal, maintaining the original decision for the children to abide with their parents. At the end of September, the case was dismissed for all the families residing in Lyon.
In Eguilles, the children were held by social services. On July 29th, after 51 days of separation, they were all released to their parents, under the condition that social services be given intervention, with the children participating in a socialization program. The Judge presiding over the case, Judge Permingeat, then decided to extend this program for another year, based on his belief that life in a religious community does not offer an adequate education for children. The parents and the children themselves appealed this resolution, but the year expired before the appeal came to court. .
The criminal case against the 15 adults was officially closed in January 1999. After five years of investigation, the Prosecutor concluded that there was "no proof, photos or medical evidence" to substantiate the charges and recommended the case be closed without being brought to trial. Judge Assonion of the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Aix-en-Provence accepted this recommendation, closing the proceedings in January 1999, acquitting Family members of all charges.
An appeal was promptly lodged to this ruling by the French anti-"cult" organization, UNADFI (Association for the Defense of the Family and the Individual), which was rejected by the courts on February 24th, 2000 by Judge Assonion, definitively closing the case against Family members.
Excerpts of Minor's Court Ruling of Aix-en -Provence,
JUDGE PERMINGEAT PRESIDING
July 30, 1993.
On June 9th, 1993, the gendarmerie services, acting upon the commissional request of Mr. Mackowiak, provincial judge of first instance of Aix-en-Provence, arrested in Erguilles 12 adults, presumed to be members of the "Children of God" sect. They confirmed the presence of 47 children in the same house.
The adults were detained and interrogated for the charges of "inciting minors to licentiousness or promoting the corruption of minors".
At the same time, an Educational Assistance procedure was initiated for the children's benefit. These became the object of a temporary protective measure and were placed in the care of the Direction for Social and Sanitary Intervention. (DISS)
Indeed, the first elements of the investigation led to believe that the children had been victims of sexual abuse. Moreover, the context in which they live is such as to place their morality, their health and their security in danger or to place at serious risk the conditions of their education.
However, after the detention of the llth of June 1993, the youngest children were returned to their parents, and the intervention of the Open Environment Educational Action (AEMO)
Several measures of investigation have been ordered, in particular medical tests, a social inquiry, psychiatric examinations and psycho-educational tests. The information acquired within the framework of the Educational Assistance Procedure does not confirm for the time being that the children have been victims of sexual practices as manifested in the Gendamerie's investigation.
Some works [of Father David] contain texts of recommendation, drawings which appear shocking coming from the man who is now called Father David by the adults or Grandpa by the children. One can legitimately ask oneself what from amongst these books is used for the teaching and instruction of the children today, and what is no longer in use. These questions however, do not constitute proof. The same applies to the attitudes or declarations of some of the children that seemed ambiguous and should be the subject of further complementary investigations; but, as is, neither do they constitute proof.
On the other hand, other points lead to the consideration that the conditions of education of the children are seriously compromised under the article 375 of the Civil Code.
The religious convictions of the parents are to be respected and should be taken in account while applying the educative assistance. But these should not have the effect of restraining the development of the child's personality, the development of his talents and his mental and physical aptitudes; in particular, this doesn't authorize the parents to close the children in a narrow vision of the world and society. In essence, the daily life of the children is carried out almost exclusively within the community; the children do not attend school outside the community.
...The adults make their children live in a social and cultural isolation which is characteristic of the functioning of a sect and places the psychological and intellectual development of the children in serious danger.
These observations justify the continuation of the Educational Assistance intervention; while we await the results of the different examinations requested, it does not appear to be indispensable to continue retaining the custody of the children; even though this institutionalization has benefited them a lot, as far as their health is concerned and the discovery of a less rigid way of life than that of the community of their parents, most of them are suffering from the abrupt severing of their close relations.
Furthermore, applying article 375.2, paragraph 2, of the civil code, it is necessary to make clear that maintaining the children in their families will also be conditional to the compliance to the French law regarding the obligation to school the children over 6 years old and for all the children to participate weekly in a sportive, recreational or cultural activity outside of the community.
ON THESE GROUNDS:
We order a withdrawal of the placement [of the children] under the custody of the DISS We order for AEMO social services (Open Environment Educational Action) to intervene.
SECOND RULING OF THE MINORS' JUDGE
Minor's Court, Aix-en-Provence
March 3rd, 1994.
Presiding: Judge Permingeat
By means of an order of 30 July 1993, a withdrawal was given of the temporary measure to retain the custody of the children and the intervention of the AEMO social services (Open Environment Educational Action) was ordered; this was extended until the hearing this day by an edict of January 14th, 1994.
The Prosecuting Attorney requested the continuation of the Educational Assistance intervention and he also asked that the AEMO intervention include the obligation that education be carried out in an educational establishment.
Considering that neither the physical condition of the minors nor their psychic state have suffered due to their belonging to the Family, the lawyer of the parents asks that no further AEMO intervention be pronounced. The children, through their lawyers indicated their satisfaction in having participated in external activities, but request the intervention of Open Environment Educational Action cease.
Several measures of investigation were ordered: a social inquiry, psychiatric examinations, psychoeducational examinations. Besides this, Open Environment Educational Action has provided some reports about their intervention;
1) The educational conditions of the children are not seriously compromised. Their health, their security, their morality are not in danger because of bad housing conditions, insufficient material resources or even of insufficient medical attention.
The information gathered during the procedure of AEMO does not confirm that the children have been the victims of the sexual practices that were discovered during the investigation of the pre-trial Judge intervening. The community to which the parents and children belong to is an offshoot of the Children of God.
The attitudes or declarations of some of the children could have appeared ambiguous, but the psychiatric examinations and the observation of the children in state institutions by the social services such as AEMO, allows us to affirm, without any possible doubt, that the children have not been submitted to sexual practices.
Concerning their health, the social services (AEMO) did not raise any particular concern.
On the other hand, the social investigations and the psychiatric examinations show some educational lacks linked directly to the way of life.
Beyond the differences of the conclusions of the psychiatrists, the reports of the different investigations that were ordered agree on the seriously detrimental effect of the way of life and the teaching of the community for the children, characterized by a social and cultural closedness and an actual limitation of academic knowledge to that which is necessary for the accomplishment of the religious precepts of the community. It is particularly striking to see the weakness of the general level of the children, as they are getting more and more below average as they grow up; their very limited knowledge of the French language even though some of them have been living in France for several years; their constant and unique reference to religious themes, their 'manichean' and rigid concept of the exterior world where everything is bad except the community in which they live.
If the parents have the indisputable right and duty to educate their children according to their philosophic and religious convictions, to transmit the values that seem essential to them, nevertheless, they must encourage the development of the potential of their children and not limit them. And even more basically, respect the personality of those who are by definition beings in the making. It is up to the parents to make it possible for them to make their own choices in life when they have the capacity and the maturity.
The continuation of AEMO (social services) seems necessary to provide help and counsel to the family on the one hand and also to make sure that the children participate in activities outside of the community, chosen in agreement with the parents.
On these grounds, we, J.M. Permingeat, first minors Judge ruling in the audience of the chamber of primary hearing...
AFFIRM that the minors Judge is competent to intervene in favor of the children through the AEMO. We order in favor of the children an AEMO programme for one year from the day of this present ruling.
LYON, FRANCE APPEAL'S COURT DECISION
July 23, 1993
The Children of God, according to the writings of its founder, which are studied and propagated by its members and the declaration of members of the founder's family, or of former members, have advocated revolutionary ideas against established systems, questioning family functioning by the organization of communities of life and training, oriented towards the proselytism of their religious ideas and internal education of the children belonging to the group. Sexual liberty permitted between members challenges the concept of the couple and of parents. Physical relationships by the females of the community with outsiders were recognized as a means of proselytizing, a way to help others or to gain advantage for the community.
The ideas of self-sufficient communal life, to fulfill the missionary role towards the outside and the training of the children of the community are fully preserved; they are based on the love of God, the defense of Jesus and the non-violent fighting against the Anti-Christ.
On June 16th, 1993, the Judge of Lyon has ordered the cancellation of the temporary custody that was decided by the prosecuting attorney and has requested psychological and medical examination. The prosecuting attorney has regularly appealed this decision and has requested that this decision be annulled and the children placed under social services for 6 months. He claims that the children are in danger:
-because the educational conditions are seriously endangered by the non respect of the obligation to attend formal school
-because the health, the safety and the morality of the children are endangered because of the lack of reference points in the structure of the individual identity of each child, by the lack of privacy in the community, by damaging sexual ideology which is passed on to the children through the books of the sect, by the rejection of the outer world.
-He adds that the only way to remedy this would be to institutionalize the children so as to put an end to this state of danger.
THE REASONS OF THE VERDICT:
Considering that the doctors and the experts do not consider it necessary that the children be taken away immediately out of their communities and considering that it is better to seek the agreement of the parents and the children and to keep the children in their natural surroundings to ensure the success of the educational measures and to respect the obligation of maintaining them in their environment, according to the civil code.
Considering that the danger, scholastically as well as educationally and psychologically, cannot cease by the sudden breaking of the emotional ties in the lives of the children and the place where they live;
Considering that the Court maintains that it cannot honor the request of the prosecution to give the custody of the children to social services for six months, but rather maintains the former decision of the children's judge.
[returning the children to the custody of the parents].
(Following is one of the resolutions emitted, closing the minor's case. These were done by families and were similar for each family)
JUDGEMENT OF EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE:
Lyon Minors' Court
September 29, 1993.
We Mr. M. Rismann, Minor's Judge for the Court of First Instance of Lyon, acting in application of the statements of articles 375 and following of the Civil code and the articles 1181 and following of the code of civil procedure:
In the light of the elements of the dossier, in particular the conclusions of the medical and psychological examinations of the children, it appears that:
-Victoria, Miguel and Angela are described as intelligent children, expressing themselves well and not presenting the slightest manifestation of any psychological pathology or psycho-emotional disturbances.
-their situation in their family environment and community surroundings doesn't seem to present
any danger up to now except for the closed environment in which they evolve.
-the parent-child relationships are rich, sincere and strong
-the reservations relative to the enclosed functioning of the family do not justify in themselves alone, the instigation of a judicial educational measures in the absence of psychological or physical disturbances noticed in regards to the children.
For these reasons it is appropriate to say that there is no reason for judicial educational assistance, the conditions of the article 375 of the civil code not being present.
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