div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Discrimination on the Basis of Religion and Belief in Western Europe"

Testimony of Dr. T. Jeremy Gunn

before the

House International Relations Committee

U.S. House of Representatives

June 14, 2000


The Two Faces of France

In 1939, Félix Chevrier arrived in the small French town of Chabannes (Creuse) for the purpose of renovating an abandoned chateau to house and school Jewish refugee children from Eastern Europe [1]. At the time Chevrier arrived, France possessed a considerable and deserved reputation for providing a home for foreign exiles. But within a year of the opening of the school at Chabannes, France itself fell victim to foreign occupiers. By late 1940, the northern zone of France was under Nazi control. The southern zone was under the jurisdiction of the French Vichy government -- located less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) from M. Chevrier's school.

While M. Chevrier and the good people of Chabannes risked their lives to save the refugee children, the Vichy government sent police into the villages of France to arrest Jews. By October of 1940, the Vichy government issued a law defining "Jews" and prohibiting them from holding certain types of employment, including positions in government, law, the police, the army, the press, and teaching. The law subsequently expanded to prohibit Jews from engaging in most forms of commerce [2]. These decrees were issued against Jews not because any had been found guilty of having committed a crime. Jews were condemned -- as a group -- simply because they belonged to the group. Such is the peculiar logic of prejudice. It does not require individual culpability; it requires only the accusation that a person is a member of the condemned class.

The Vichy government ultimately was responsible for arresting, transporting, and delivering to the Nazis tens of thousands of European Jews, both French and Eastern European. In stark contrast, all but four of M. Chevrier's 400 Jewish children survived the war.

One of M. Chevrier's colleagues, Dr. Meiseles, had previously treated children in French concentration camps before coming to Chabannes. In 1942 he wrote: "To examine the children of Chabannes after having examined the children in the concentration camps is to know in our sad times the two faces of France. The true one is here in Chabannes, where M. Chevrier is working with such beautiful success to cure the misdeeds of the other."

Unfortunately, France, like all countries of the world -- including the United States -- has two faces: the face of courage and toleration and the face of prejudice and discrimination. The face of France represented by M. Chevrier saw Jews not as a despised group, but as individuals. The other France took "legal" measures against people without needing any particularized evidence that they were unpatriotic, had committed fraud, or had harmed their children. Both faces of France can still be seen. [3] Nevertheless, there are some frightening broader similarities to Vichy in some extreme cases, such as the 1993 raid on the Children of God (now The Family) community in Aix-en-Provence. In that case, 200 heavily armed police arrived during the night and dragged members of the group into custody, alleging that they had committed child abuse. In February of this year, the court in Aix-en-Provence finally dropped all charges against the group and closed down the investigation.

Overview of Western Europe

There are several obstacles to the internationally recognized freedom of religion and belief in several Western Europe countries [4]. Although I would like to discuss them to the extent time permits, it is first important to recognize that, unlike some places in the world, the governments and the people of Western Europe generally believe in the rule of law and human rights. Much to their credit, virtually all European states have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and the people of these countries have the option of taking complaints to the European Court of Human Rights [5]. The European Court of human rights has emerged, since 1993, as a champion of the freedom of religion and belief. I believe that it is very likely that, ultimately, the problems of discrimination on the basis of religion and belief that are now confronting Western European states will be addressed appropriately by the European Court. (I will add, parenthetically, that the most reliable defenders of the rights of religious minorities in European countries generally have been the courts.) I also strongly believe that the good face of Europe ultimately will prevail -- with or without prodding by the United States.

Although I will devote the bulk of my testimony to the problem of new religious movements (pejoratively described by their opponents as "sects and cults"), this Committee should not be under the impression that this is the only, or even the most important, of the obstacles to freedom of religion and belief. [6] Scholars generally apply the term "new religious movements" to describe these groups, although this term does not satisfactorily capture the variety of groups that now come within its ambit. Some groups, for example, may scarcely be considered "religious" and others certainly should not be considered "new." Thus a Hindu ashram in France might be labeled a "secte" by the government and a "new religious movement" by scholars, even though the beliefs and practices at the ashram may be traditional and thousands of years old. Without attempting to rank the problems in order, the three other salient and inter-related problems of freedom of religion and belief in Western Europe are: first, the incorporation of Muslims into society, second, laws that discriminate among religions, and third, societal attitudes of intolerance (including anti-semitism).

1. Muslims. In several Western European countries, Muslims now constitute the second or third largest religious group. Worldwide, there are almost one billion Muslims. As in the United States, Muslims have not been fully integrated and suffer from popular prejudice and stereotypes. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), operating under the aegis of the Council of Europe, recently reported that "Prejudice against Muslim communities (Islamophobia) is a disturbing trend, manifested in violence, harassment, discrimination, and general negative attitudes and stereotypes [7]. The societal attitudes affect Muslims particularly with regard to employment discrimination, the lack of accommodation for the performance of religious practices at work and school, discrimination against Muslim girls from wearing head scarves at school, and the inability to obtain legal recognition of worship communities (see below). A failure to deal fairly and creatively with this issue will, I believe, lead in the long term to greater domestic and international strife.

2. Discriminatory laws. Reflecting a historical experience very different from that of the United States, many European countries have laws that provide significant benefits to some religions that are denied to others. These include such benefits as tax exempt status, payment of salaries of clergy, religious teachers, payment of the salaries for religious teachers in public schools, and access for their clergy to institutions such the military, hospitals, and prisons. Although there are deep-rooted historical reasons for this legal discrimination, I part company from my European colleagues who defend such laws because of their historical roots. Just as "history" cannot be used to defend current discrimination on the basis of race and sex, so it should not be used to discriminate on the basis of religion and belief. The international covenants are quite explicit in forbidding discrimination on the basis of religion.

European governments frequently require religions to have a country-wide organization in order to be fully registered and recognized by the state. While this does not present a problem for hierarchically organized churches such as Roman Catholicism, it does present a problem for religious bodies that traditionally operate independently of each other, such as Christian congregational churches or Islamic mosques.

3. Societal attitudes. Five years ago, when I was young, naive, and a practicing lawyer, I believed that the key to resolving problems of religious discrimination in Europe was to amend discriminatory laws. Although I may not now be wiser, I nevertheless have come to believe that the core of the problem is discriminatory societal attitudes. Although discriminatory laws and attitudes no doubt reinforce each other, it is the attitudes that bear principal responsibility. ECRI, in addition to finding discrimination against Muslims in its most recent report, also notes "an intensification in the spread of antisemitic ideas . . . . Dissemination of antisemitic material is increasing." [8]

Discrimination Against New Religious Movements

One issue that has received increasing notice during the past few years in Europe has been what may be called the "anti-sect movement." The anti-sect movement has observed with alarm the apparent increase in small religious and belief groups that they pejoratively describe as "sects" or "cults." There are a number of private groups, some of which receive government funding, that have become extremely active in mobilizing public opposition to "sects." [9]

In many ways, the birth of the anti-sect movement may be traced to an understandable reaction to the horrible mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1979, where more than 900 people died. There have been a number of other sensational events demonstrate the seriousness of the problem from the perspective of the anti-sect movement: the Aum Shinrikyo's use of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995, the Solar Temple suicides in Quebec, France, and Switzerland, the Heaven's Gate suicides in Los Angeles in 1997, and the recent mass suicide-murders in Uganda. In addition to these events, the anti-sect movement also points to the less dramatic cases where there are allegations that "sects" engage in brainwashing, deceptive recruitment methods, fraud, child abuse, and sexual promiscuity.

Before criticizing some of the tactics and methods that are common in the anti-sect movement, I would first like to acknowledge that there are people within the movement who are well-motivated and that many of the problems they identify are real. There are individuals and groups who misuse the shield of "religion" to disguise fraudulent activities. There also are individuals who use the shield of "religion" in order to manipulate other human beings in ways that are harmful. Many former members of the new religious movements have bitter feelings that they were abused psychologically and financially by these movements. These problems are real and they should not be ignored. Many within the anti-sect movement give their time and resources to aid people who genuinely need their help.

Unfortunately, a salient characteristic of the anti-sect movement -- particularly the public side of the anti-sect movement -- has become one of promoting discrimination and intolerance against a broad range of groups. What might have originated with the purest of intentions and the noblest of goals has become overly tainted by ad hominem attacks and shoddy analysis of facts. This faulty reasoning leads, sadly and inevitably, to widespread governmental and public discrimination against people on the basis of religion and belief.

The most serious problem in Western Europe regarding discrimination against new religious movements is in France [10]. In 1998, the French government established an agency entitled -- unsubtly -- the "Interministerial Mission to Battle Against Sects" (Interministerial Mission or MILS, from the French Mission Interministérielle de Lutte Contre les Sectes) which is now headed by the former French Foreign Minister, M. Alain Vivien. The current French Minister of Justice has sent circulars urging prosecutors to become more active in their attack on "sects." During the past few years, the French National Assembly issued prejudicial reports on "sects" that are shockingly unscientific. Widely supported bills, currently pending in the French legislature, call for increasingly severe measures against "sects." Militant anti-sect groups issue inflammatory publications. Although the Government of France could be using its considerable influence to promote tolerance and cool the passions of these groups, it has chosen instead, in the words of the 1998 Swedish Commission's report, to make "common cause" with anti-sect groups [11]. (I should note here, and will elaborate in the following section, that there recently have been some encouraging signs in France of changing attitudes.)

I will describe the problems of the official anti-sect movement in France to illustrate how a legitimate concern for human welfare can be diverted toward the taking of illogical and discriminatory actions. Although the problems in France are on the whole worse than in other European countries, the illogic and methods are similar. I will identify two (interrelated) characteristics of the prejudicial methods that have seized some officials and institutions in France. I will refer to them as first, the language of prejudice, and second, the illogical methodology of prejudice.

1. The language of prejudice. The language of prejudice uses pejorative terms as an appeal to the listener's bias and as a substitute for reflective analysis. The term most commonly employed by the anti-sect activists is, of course, the term "sect," which plays a role akin to derogatory racial epithets [12]. The German Enquête Commission, whose work began as an attack on "sects," ultimately concluded that the term was a pejorative and recommended that it no longer be used [13]. The Swedish report used the term "New Religious Movements" and abjured using the term "sect."

The language of prejudice uses pejorative terms to disparage its ideological opponents.

One common tactic by some in the anti-sect movement is to accuse their ideological opponents of being members (or "fellow-travelers") of the scorned group. I personally witnessed one unfortunate example of this tactic by the MILS President himself against a member of an official U.S. delegation to France.

In April 1999, I was a member of a three-person delegation to Europe sponsored by the Office of International Religious Freedom of the U.S. Department of State. We scheduled a meeting with the MILS President. But shortly before the meeting, we were advised by the U.S. Embassy in Paris that he had decided not to meet with our delegation because one of us was affiliated with the Church of Scientology. I am not a Scientologist and I knew that the other two participants -- Dr. David Little, then of the U.S. Institute of Peace and now a Professor at Harvard Divinity School, and Karen Lord, Counsel for Religious Freedom at the Congressional Helsinki Commission -- were not Scientologists. After additional calls were made by the Embassy, the President finally decided that he would meet with us.

As we were introduced to the President, he remarked that he "already knew" who Ms. Lord was and that he did not need to be introduced to her. Later in the meeting, following a question by Ms. Lord, the President said that he would not respond to her but would give a response to the "head" of the U.S. delegation. A few days after the meeting, the MILS President gave a speech that reported that a member of the U.S. delegation was affiliated with the Church of Scientology, a statement that he has repeated subsequently [14]. When he makes these statements to the media, he apparently is not asked whether he actually has evidence to prove his assertion.

M. Vivien's assertion is, in a word, false. I am certain that the President of the MILS cannot prove his allegation. I challenge him either to provide evidence to support it or to issue an apology to Ms. Lord and the United States. I think it would be an excellent idea for the French media and the French government to insist that M. Vivien prove or retract his assertion.

The most important issue, however, is not that M. Vivien made a false statement that was designed to discredit Ms. Lord, the State Department, or efforts of the United States to promote religious freedom. The important issue is that his manner of responding to questions about discrimination against groups exemplifies the tactic of much of the anti-sect campaign: the use of uninformed, provocative, and false allegations for the purpose of discrediting people and groups. If the President of MILS is willing to broadcast such false allegations about a member of an official U.S. delegation, one can well imagine what he might do to members of small religious and belief groups in France. Governments should be in the business of promoting tolerance, not in the business of spreading false statements about people's beliefs for the purpose of discrediting them.

This ad hominem attack was not an aberration; it has, unfortunately, become a standard rhetorical device to discredit those who believe that the anti-sect movement is going too far. For example:

- In its annual report, the MILS dismissed the testimony of the three experts who were invited to testify to the OSCE supplemental meeting on religious freedom in Vienna on March 22, 1999, by stating that France "was criticized by certain sects who were imprudently admitted to participate in the proceedings by officials of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or by persons affiliated with the U.S. Congress Helsinki Commission." [15]

- When the President of MILS was asked recently to respond to the criticism made by the head of the prestigious École pratiques des hautes études that MILS was becoming "hysterical," he responded by saying "the accusation of hysteria is typical of the language of Scientology." [16]

- In debating an anti-sect bill in parliament, a French senator recently stated: "the American Department of State counts among its members adepts of Scientology." [17]

- A British member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who has spoken out in favor of non-discrimination, was described in the MILS report as "reportedly an adept of Scientology." [18]

- The President of the MILS recently, without providing evidence, alleged that an (unnamed) Scientologist had infiltrated the cabinet of an (unnamed) former President of the Republic and that another (unnamed) Scientologist had "attempted to infiltrate" the judicial police. [19]

The language of prejudice similarly reveals itself in the use terms such as "infiltration" to describe the real (or imagined) employment of a "sect" member in a business or a government office [20]. Whereas if Catholics or members of the Reformed Church teach school or work for Électricité de France, they are "employees." But if they are members of the groups under attack, they are "infiltrators." This is not the language of reason or dispassionate analysis; this is pure prejudice. Anti-Americanism is now emerging as another characteristic of the language of prejudice. [21]

2. The illogical methodology of prejudice

The MILS specifically, and the anti-sect movement in France generally, relies on the veracity of the information gathered in a number of French parliamentary reports on sects, the most important of which was issued in 1996 as Les sectes en France. This report, often identified as the "Guyard report" after its rapporteur, Jacques Guyard, identifies 172 groups as "sects." The Belgian parliament similarly issued an Enquête Parlementaire in 1997 that identified 189 groups as "sects." These lists include a wide range of groups, including many well-respected and established groups, such as Southern Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Opus Dei, and Anthroposophy. Many groups that were identified on the lists report an increase in popular and governmental discrimination against them.

The principal criticisms of the methodology employed by the anti-sect movement (particularly as demonstrated in the French and Belgian parliamentary reports) is as follows:

First, the drafters of the reports did not seriously consult academics or scholars familiar with issues of new religious movements, but relied instead on anti-sect activists. Such was the criticism made by the Swedish Parliamentary investigation, which traveled to France and interviewed those who participated in the preparation of the report. This criticism also can be made against the Belgian parliamentary report. The final report of the German Enquête Commission, which ultimately did include dispassionate scholars, generally reached conclusions about the groups that differed markedly from the one-sided reports prepared in France and Belgium. The German report concluded, for example, that there is no societal threat from "sects" as such.

By failing to consult scholars, the reports present an ahistorical and caricatured view of new religious movements. It seems to escape the recognition of the drafters of the report that all established religions were once considered to be disreputable sects and were accused of heinous crimes. The reports fail to show a dispassionate and conscientious understanding of the phenomenon with which they are dealing. [22]

Second, the reports and the anti-sect movement typically do not consult with current members and leaders of the so-called "sects," but rely instead on statements made by accusers and disgruntled former members. They refuse to accept the considerable evidence that most (although not all) adherents of the new religious movements report positive and beneficial experiences with the groups -- which was the finding of both the Swedish government's investigation and the German parliament's investigation. [23]

In a telling repudiation of this methodology, a French court recently found Jacques Guyard, President of the 1999 parliamentary investigation on the Finances of Sects, liable for defamation against Anthroposophy. In a television appearance after release of the report, M. Guyard charged that Anthroposophy was "typical" of sects in that its real goals are misappropriation of money and exercising mind control over its adherents. The Anthroposophists sued [24]. As reported by the newspaper Le Monde, the court held that the parliamentary report was not a "serious investigation" (enquête sérieuse). The court found that the parliamentary report and the allegations of M. Guyard were based upon testimony from self-declared "victims" of Anthroposophy and that the report did not provide an opportunity for officials to respond. M. Guyard was fined 20,000 francs and ordered to pay damages of 90,000 francs. [25]

The French anti-sect movement typically refuses to engage in a dialogue with the groups that they are attacking. When we spoke with the President of the MILS we suggested the importance of hearing both sides of a story before reaching conclusions. He responded that there was no need to hear from the sects because they will only try to deceive. It is my understanding that MILS refuses to meet with -- let alone attempt to understand -- any group that it labels a "sect." This refusal to engage in a dialogue is an approach very different from, for example, the Swedish Commission, which strongly recommended dialogue with groups rather than polarization of the issues. [26]

Third, the principal documentary "evidence" in the French reports are the secret allegations contained in the files of the Renseignements Généraux, the security division of the police. In several cases the report placed groups on the list of sects solely upon the unsubstantiated secret evidence that the groups had no opportunity to rebut or to challenge. The "evidence" remains secret.

Fourth, the reports use examples of alleged misdeeds of some people in some groups (such as the fraud conviction of several Scientologists in Lyon) and then broadly condemn the entire group or even "sects" generally. The fallacy of this type of analysis can easily be illustrated by reference to the recent criminal conviction of Jacques Guyard. (Guyard was the President of the 1999 French parliamentary Report on the Finances of Sects, the Rapporteur for the 1996 parliamentary report on Sects in France, and currently is a member of the Interministerial Mission.) The same M. Guyard who condemned in 1999 the fraud committed by "sects" was, ironically, convicted by a French criminal court in May of this year for influence peddling (trafic d'influence) and was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 100,000 francs [27]. If we were to apply the same "analysis" to M. Guyard's situation that he and others apply to the groups that they condemn, then we would need to hold the entire Interministerial Mission -- of which he is a member -- responsible for his actions. I am confident that members of the Interministerial Mission would strenuously and properly object to the Interministerial Mission's being held responsible for M. Guyard's actions -- but they should just as strenuously repudiate the practice of holding "sects" responsible for the actions of some individuals.

Fifth, the reports are fatally skewed because they do not focus on the causes of the problems that ostensibly prompted their investigations (such as child abuse, fraud, or kidnaping), but focus instead on the scorned groups. By focusing on the groups rather than the problems, the analysis rhetorically (and anti-intellectually) overemphasizes problems within those groups and ignores identical problems in other groups. Thus a suicide by a member of a "sect" is treated as shocking evidence that the sect is "dangerous," while a suicide by a banker or baker is not seen as evidence that banking or baking is dangerous. The anti-sect methodology makes sense to its advocates only because they began with the assumption that the groups are harmful. This is not objective analysis; it is prejudice disguised as analysis.

Sixth, the anti-sect movement frequently relies on untested accusations against groups and ignores findings that ofttimes exonerate groups. The MILS 2000 report, for example, repeated a number of accusations that have been made against groups but failed to report several court decisions in France and the European Court of Human Rights that exonerated the Jehovah's Witnesses and The Family.

In summary, the "methodology" of prejudice begins with the assumption that it then pretends to then prove. It accepts as evidence accusations that support the prejudice, but refuses to consider evidence that contradicts the prejudice.

The Promotion of Anti-sect Actions Outside France

The Interministerial Mission is particularly proud of its efforts to promote its anti-sect message outside of France. It reports that it has close working relations with the French Foreign Ministry and notes with pleasure that MILS has met with French ambassadors to educate them to the dangers of sects. MILS now participates as a part of the French delegation in a number of international gatherings [28]. It spends one-third of its time promoting its anti-sect message outside of France. Last week, for example, the President of MILS met with anti-sect groups in Germany and pledged joint action [29]. The week before he was in Moscow. The Polish press has reported on an earlier visit to Warsaw, where he reportedly convinced the Polish government to take steps against sects. [30]

The Other Face of France -- and Europe

It is very important to note that there are some encouraging signs in France and in Europe of dissatisfaction with the discriminatory methods and tactics employed in the anti-sect movement.

It is with some relief that I can report that a byline in the distinguished French newspaper, Le Monde, recently reported that the "methods" of the President of the MILS "are becoming more and more openly criticized." [31]Analogies are used to illustrate points and they obviously do not fit all points. It must be kept firmly in mind that while the "intellectual analysis" of the anti-sect movement may parallel in some ways that of the Vichy government, its actions are not even remotely comparable to the horrendous humanitarian violations that took place under Vichy. It is the similarity in analysis that causes concern, not a similarity of behavior. Two of France's most distinguished historians, René Rémond and Jean Baubérot, recently criticized the anti-sect campaigns in France. The leading French constitutional scholar, Jacques Robert, also criticizes the methods of the anti-sect activists. The President of the Protestant Federation of France, Jean-Arnold de Clermont, has now taken a public stand against the activities of MILS. He recently observed that "MILS wishes to make a distinction between religion and "sect," but this is a formal contradiction with the law and the Constitution: the law provides that there shall be no a priori state control over associations." [32]

The respected religious affairs journalist of Le Monde, Henri Tincq has written a number of articles calling into question the anti-sect activities in France. In a growing number of cases -- including several in 1999 and 2000 -- French courts have begun to draw the line on government actions against Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups popularly designated as "sects." The courts have noted that "sect" is not a jurisprudential term and that a group's inclusion on the list of 172 should not have legal consequences. Let us hope that the rational minds of France will prevail and that an Emile Zola will arise and expose in France the methods of the public anti-sect campaign.

There are other encouraging signs in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights has handed down a number of decisions against governments that have discriminated against religious minorities, particularly cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses. In a very interesting recent decision, the European Court of Justice (an arm of the European Union), recently issued a decision critical of the French government's efforts to "restrict the free flow of capital" in its attempt to prevent the Church of Scientology from receiving funds from outside of France. A number of human rights organizations, including the International Helsinki Federation, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights Without Frontiers now regularly report on (and criticize), governmental actions that discriminate against religious and belief groups.


A full respect for religious freedom and religious diversity will come to the countries of Europe only when the people of European countries want there to be such freedoms. The United States certainly cannot cause it to happen, whether by sanctions or cajoling. Because of the increasing anti-Americanism in the anti-sect movement -- as illustrated by the MILS report -- the United States must be prudent in how it attempts to promote religious freedom. I would like to make four recommendations, the last of which is for religious groups in the United States.

First, the U.S. Department of State should monitor much more closely and vigorously anti-sect movements on both a bilateral and multilateral basis. As an example, the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw should have been as active in engaging the Polish government as was MILS. I believe that the German Desk at the State Department has, commendably, been vigorous in its efforts. The (congressional) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe plays an effective role in highlighting problems and bringing them to the attention of the Department of State.

Second, based upon my past experience in working at the Office of International Religious Freedom, I must also recommend that the Congress take seriously its responsibility for fully funding the State Department. From my own observations, personnel in the State Department are generally overworked and under-supported. When Congress creates new responsibilities for the Department of State, it should also provide sufficient resources so that the job can be performed properly. The single biggest impediment to more active monitoring and promotion of religious freedom and human rights by the State Department is, in my opinion, not a reluctance to work on the issue, but a lack of time and resources for doing it as well as it should be done.

Third, the Congress could assist the State Department by promoting a genuinely international approach to human rights. The greatest rhetorical argument of U.S. critics abroad is that the United States does not play a consistent role in promoting human rights, as is evidenced by a reluctance to ratify human rights treaties or to incorporate international standards into U.S. law. While we encourage France to incorporate international standards on freedom of religion and belief into French domestic law, we are reluctant make similar concessions ourselves.

Fourth, I believe that the U.S. religious community can be much more involved in promoting religious freedom abroad. It would be very helpful, for example, for Catholic religious leaders to meet with their co-religionists abroad and engage them in efforts to reduce religious discrimination. Indeed, I believe that the most influential institution in Europe for promoting religious freedom could be the Catholic Church. While all faiths in the United States can help, those religions that are widely practiced and respected in Europe -- particularly Catholicism, Lutheranism, Orthodoxy, and the Reformed Church -- can play a very helpful role in promoting tolerance.


I have great confidence that in twenty years from now the anti-sect mania will be seen as a peculiar and discredited phase in the history of France and other European countries. The public fears that were widespread in Germany only four years ago seem -- for the most part -- to have subsided. The question is only how long it will take until the countries of Europe engage in a genuine attempt to focus on resolving serious social problems rather than on ostracizing a category of groups. The Vichy government lasted only four years. We can hope that the excesses of the anti-sect activists will last not much longer.


1 [back] A prize-winning 1999 documentary film recounting the story of M. Chevrier is entitled The Children of Chabannes, directed by Lisa Gossels and Dean Wetherell. Ms. Gossels generously provided me with a transcript of the film.

2 [back] For a discussion of Vichy France and its attitudes and laws against Jews, see Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (1972), pp. 168-85.

3 [back] I wish to be clear on one very important point. Although I will argue below that many in France are using the same language and methodology of prejudice against new religious movements that previously were employed against the Jews, the resulting legal actions in France are very different. No one in France is advocating massive arrests or incarceration of members of new religious movements. All serious proposals urge that legal measures be employed and that human rights be recognized.

4 [back] International standards for freedom of religion and belief are set out in a number of international documents ratified by the countries of Western Europe, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. These instruments prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. They also guarantee the freedom of religion and belief, provided that the exercise of these freedoms does not cause harm to the public welfare.

5 [back] Europeans believe that their countries have been more willing to accept and apply international norms than has the United States. Whereas all European countries have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, the United States has not ratified the comparable Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Nor has the United States agreed to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Therefore, criticisms that the United States might wish to make that European states are not applying international standards should be well-tempered by the recognition that the Europeans are, after all, ultimately willing to accept international review of their laws and practices and that the United States is not.

6 [back] There is need for some clarification on terminology. In English, the term “cult” is widely understood to be a pejorative term, whereas “sect” more generally refers to a branch or division within a religion. In French, the term “culte” is a neutral term that refers to religious bodies, whereas “secte” generally now is employed as a pejorative term (although it also has a technical meaning). When “secte” is used by Francophone governments, whether in France, Belgium, or the French-speaking areas of Switzerland, it is understood to be a derogatory term. In German, “Sekten” generally has the same negative connotations as the French “sectes.” Thus the more accurate translation of the German “Sekten” and the French “sectes,” is the English word “cults.” The German parliamentary investigation, known as the Enquête Commission, originally used the term “Sects and Psycho-groups” to describe the groups they investigated. (See text at footnotes 12 and 13 below.)

7 [back] European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Annual report on ECRI's activities covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 1999 (27 April 2000).

8 [back] Ibid.

9 [back] Examples include the Union Nationale des Associations de Défense de la Famille et de l'Individu (UNADFI), Centre Contre les Manipulations Mentales (CCMM), and, within the United States, the American Family Foundation.

10 [back] I should add that I personally wish that I did not need to say this. I have spent some years of my life in France and I know and admire the face of France represented by people such as M. Chevrier.

11 [back] See In Good Faith -- Society and the new religious movements (1998) (the Swedish government's English summary of the report), section 1.4: “In France the state has on the whole made common cause with the anti-cult movement . . . .” The French parliament recently amended French law to allow these militant anti-sect groups legal standing to participate in prosecutions and legal actions against so-called “sects,” thereby encouraging a common cause between private anti-sect groups and official government policy. Before becoming President of MILS, M. Vivien was the President of CCMM, one of the two prominent anti-sect groups.

12 [back] For discussion of the terms, see footnote 6 above.

13 [back] New Religious and Ideological Communities and Psychogroups in the Federal Republic of Germany (1998), p. 295.

14 [back] See, for example, Agence France Presse, “France-USA-Sects,” June 14, 1999. “A person connected (“proche”) to the Church of Scientology was a part of an American delegation that came to conduct an inquest in the name of the Department of State . . . .” [All translations from the French are my own.]

15 [back] MILS, Rapport (January 2000), p. 24-25. Although the religions of the experts ought not be relevant, it may be noted that Dr. Massimo Introvigne is a Catholic, Canon Michael Bourdeaux is an Anglican, and Master Alain Garay is a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. M. Garay is a distinguished French lawyer who has won several religious discrimination cases before the European Court of Human Rights.

16 [back] La Vie, May 11, 2000, p. 11.

17 [back] Statement of Senator Derycke, Senate proceedings, December 16, 1999. The opponents of the anti-sect movement sometimes accuse it of practicing “McCarthyism.” Perhaps there is no better illustration of this point than the Senator accusing the U.S. State Department of harboring unnamed Scientologists.

18 [back] Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sectes, Rapport (January 2000), p. 27 (hereinafter MILS 2000 Report).

19 [back] Agence France Presse, “France-sect,” September 15, 1999.

20 [back] See, for example, MILS 2000 Report, p. 10: Sects “repeatedly attempt, with some success, to infiltrate democratic institutions and international organizations, official or nongovernmental.” The report provides no evidence to support this assertion. When a Bavarian government official reported to me that Scientologists are attempting to infiltrate the Bavarian government, I asked him what evidence he had to support the assertion. He responded by saying that he is aware of no evidence to prove it -- but that is what makes the infiltration attempt so insidious -- Scientologists cover up the evidence of their infiltration. When I asked him whether Catholics had “infiltrated” the government of Bavaria, he could not understand the relevance of my question.

21 [back] Massimo Introvigne concluded, after reading the MILS report, that “rough anti-Americanism and nationalism are offered as poor substitutes for logical argument.” In the report, the United States is accused of having “ulterior motives” in promoting freedom of religion. MILS 2000 Report, p. 6.

22 [back] This is far different from the Swedish report, which is balanced and nuanced, as well as the German report, which shows much sophistication on many issues. While I continue to have reservations about parts of the German report, it reveals a great deal of balance.

23 [back] New Religious and Ideological Communities and Psychogroups in the Federal Republic of Germany (1998), pp. 113-15, In Good Faith -- Society and the new religious movements, section 1.6.

24 [back] Because of parliamentary immunity, groups have not been able to bring defamation suits regarding accusations in the reports.

25 [back] See Jean Michel Dumay, “Jacques Guyard Condemned for Having Called Anthroposophy a 'Sect': The Work of the Parliamentary Commission did not Constitute a Serious Inquiry,” Le Monde, March 23, 2000.

26 [back] In Good Faith -- Society and the new religious movements, section 1.4.

27 [back] Le Monde, May 11, 2000.

28 [back] MILS 2000 Report, p. 18.

29 [back] Reuters, June 7, 2000.

30 [back] Polish Press Agency, September 12, 1999; Jonathan Luxmoore (Warsaw), “War or Peace with Cults,” The Tablet, January 22, 2000.

31 [back] Xavier Ternisien, January 22, 2000. The article suggested that some in the French government insisted on redacting parts of the MILS report, which would seem to be explained by the number of unexplained blanks on pages in the report. See, for example, MILS 2000 Report, p. 4 (wholly blank) and p. 29 blank except for two sentences in the center.
The President of the MILS is a member of the Socialist Party who in the past has been critical of the Vichy government. He apparently fails to see, however, that with regard to sects, he applies the same logical analysis as the Vichy government: deciding that a “group” is dangerous without questioning whether individuals are individually culpable; relying on one-sided, untested rumors and innuendos to reach conclusions that groups as a whole are dangerous; smearing the motives of opponents; refusing to hear exculpatory evidence; and attacking opponents as being sympathizers of dangerous groups.

32 [back] Quoted in “Faut-il dissoudre les sectes?”, La vie, May 11, 2000, p. 12.

CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors

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