CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

Belgium : A New French-Style Anticult Law?

The Belgian Parliament, which in 1997 approved (although explicitly excluding from the vote the final list of potentially dangerous cults) what was probably the worst of many official anti-cult reports published in Europe in the late 1990s (its first and second part are available on the Internet in French), is as usual following France. After the French anti-cult Mission hardened again its position in 1996, a new aggressive parliamentary report was passed in March 1996 (see complete text in French). As a result, the government sent to the Parliament a new draft law punishing “fraudulently abusing a minor’s or a very vulnerable person’s condition of ignorance or weakness” in order to seriously damage “his or her physical integrity, physical or mental health, or finances”. The law has good chances to be passed. Although it seems limited to minors or “very vulnerable” persons, there is the risk that any member of a “cult” will be regarded by definition as “very vulnerable” and with his or her “mental health” in danger. Declarations by Belgian and French anti-cult representatives certainly emphasize that “cults” are the real and only target of the new law, and that Scientology will be the subject matter of the first attempt at enforcing it. Such attempts systematically failed in France (the anti-cult law passed in 2001 was successfully enforced only against a minor group, Néo-Phare, whose leader almost renounced to a serious defense in court) and the Belgian law is drafted in the same confusing terms which would presumably leave ample room to the most capable defense attorneys. It confirms, however, the trend of French-speaking Belgian politicians of following France in their anti-cult policy and, as usual, presents serious dangers to those groups too poor or small (as Néo-Phare was in France) to afford adequate legal representation.