by Massimo Introvigne
see full text of the law (English translation). See also full text in the original French version and minutes of the discussion in the French Senate (in French)
After its 1996 and 1999 parliamentary reports against cults or "sects", and the establishment in 1998 of a governmental "Mission to Fight Against Cults", France now moves towards a final solution against "cults" and "sects". On December 16, 1999 the French Senate approved unanimously a draft law introduced by Mr. About amending the French Law of January 10, 1936 and certain other laws. The Law of January 10, 1936 was introduced in order to provide for the dissolution or winding-up, and ban, of combatant antigovernment organizations and private militias by a decree of the government. Cults, or "sects", will now be included. The discussion in the Senate was introduced under the heading "Fighting Cults" ("Lutte contre les Sectes"), and "cults" are the aim of the law approved on December 16, 1999 (although in the end the word "cult" was not introduced in the law, and the same could accordingly be used against other groups as well).
Article 1 allows the government to dissolve organizations and groups, which have been found guilty at least twice of a variety of criminal offenses and are "regarded as a trouble for public order or a major danger for human personality". The Senate discussion made clear that both the "trouble for public order" and the "danger for human personality" refers to the criteria for identifying "dangerous cults" in the 1996 report (where mind control had a key role), and that the list of "dangerous cults" in that report will be an important point of reference. Article 2 takes care of the fact that in recent cases (involving, particularly, the Church of Scientology) certain leaders or members of the movement but not the movement per se were found guilty of particular wrongdoings. Under Article 2 organizations and movements may now be found guilty as corporate bodies of a number of crimes. Even if this does not happen, the second part of Article 1 allows the dissolution and ban of groups whose managers or "de facto leaders" have been found guilty, at least twice, of the same crimes. Special provisions make it particularly fit for a ban the fact of having been found guilty of breaches of the Public Health Code, and this (as the printed discussion clarifies) is aimed at groups practicing, in a way regarded as hazardous to public health, faith healing or other alternatives to orthodox medicine. Finally, Article 3 amends the 1901 law on the associations elevating to 3 years of jail and a fine of FF. 300,000 the penalty for those who try to reconstitute a banned association under another name.
As a member of the Senate (Mr. Foucaud) observed, the law of 1936 "was used by the [pro-Nazi] Vichy regime" and "left-wing movements were banned". He also observed that the reference to at least two criminal verdicts against a movement for an enormous variety of crimes and wrongdoings may have paradoxical effects: "a movement may be dissolved because a leader has been found twice guilty of writing bad checks for 10 dollars" (column 40 of the printed discussion). Nevertheless, the anti-cult hysteria is so prevalent in France that all the senators voted unanimously in favor of the law (now going to the lower Chamber of Representatives, whose approval is also needed).
The senators noted that the problem for France is the international situation, and the US Department of State, "which includes Scientologists" (column 35 of the printed discussion) was singled out for its report on religious liberty. France, however, will be the next president pro tempore of the European Union, and it is suggested that it takes advantage of this circumstance to advance the anti-cult fight. Private anti-cult movements such as ADFI and CCMM (whose representatives were sitting in the Senate's gallery and were greeted by one of the senators, Ms. Derycke: column 36 of the printed report) and certain Eastern European countries were mentioned as possible allies.
To any outside observer it is obvious that most private organizations and associations in all fields, and certainly most religious organizations, have leaders, de facto or otherwise, who have been found guilty under one or another provisions of the Criminal Code (this is true, of course, for most political parties). The law approved by the Senate means that the government will be entirely free to dissolve and ban any unpopular association, or any association the government does not approve of. Although introduced as a sort of final solution for cults and cultists, it goes far beyond religion and - if approved by the Chamber of Representatives - will eliminate freedom of association in France altogether. One wonders whether the fear of being labeled as a "cult apologist" (or to have well-financed Web sites engaged in personal slander quickly set up against him or her) will prevent friends of religious liberty or human rights in general from speaking up against this law and its proposed use against dozens of "sects" and "cults", reminiscent - as one of the very senators who voted it said - of the worst deeds of earlier totalitarian regimes.
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]