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Anti-Cult Law in France

Dark Shadows: The Crisis of the French Anticult Mission (MILS) and Its Report 2000

by Massimo Introvigne

The French governmental Mission to Fight Cults (MILS) is an institution in crisis. It has been increasingly marginalized in the debates about the draft anti-cult law, where its opinions have not been regarded as particularly relevant. Media coverage of its activities has decreased, to the profit of gossipy news about internecine struggles within its own fold. Internationally, the MILS is a primary target of US claims that religious liberty is abused in France, and is becoming a real embarrassment for the French government. Whilst the MILS hoped that the latter would use its semester of presidency of the European Union in order to advance the anticult agenda, and to lionize MILS itself, this has simply not happened.

The "Rapport 2000" of the MILS, published on December 21, 2000 reflects this rather sorry state of affairs. The MILS itself, desperate for some audience, has even advertised its Report on the Usenet, on alt.religion.scientology, a newsgroup more frequented by Internet anti-cult terrorists, deprogrammers, and ex-cons turned anticultists than by governmental bodies.

It would be wrong, however, to ignore the Report altogether (as it would, on its merits, deserve). It includes some interesting information. One is that the Mission realizes that creating a special crime of "mental manipulation" or brainwashing, within the present international and French context, may become impossible in 2001, but the same aim may be achieved by amending other provisions of French law, thus in fact incriminating brainwashing once again. There is also the dangerous and bizarre idea (illustrated in a whole chapter) that those who sign contracts with "cults" may be brainwashed or manipulated, and as a consequence may not be requested by the "cults" to respect and honor these contracts (a fancy excursion by MILS into the realm of civil law). A "case study" of Anthroposophy seems to be a personal vendetta against a group which has scored some legal victories in France and elsewhere against MILS personnel and anticultists in general.

The most egregious part of the Report is an unprecedented (even by MILS standard) assault on the United States. This time it is not only the U.S. government that is blamed for the MILS’ lack of success; it is the U.S. Constitution itself. We learn, in fact, that the American Constitution includes a "dangerous ambiguity" when it comes to defining religious liberty and the relationship between State and religion, and that this ambiguity is happily not present in France, where the Revolutionaries of 1789 were better "legal experts" (perhaps, this is why they justified the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics and other religious dissidents during the same Revolution). The struggle against the cults, the Report says, is only the contemporary avatar of the "fight against obscurantism", a term used in the 18th and 19th century to identify any religious influence regarded as hostile to the French state, Roman Catholic opposition to the Revolutionary ideas, and religious orders in general. While U.S. historians would surely appreciate the MILS’ unique contribution about the shortcomings of the Framers, the text is important insofar as it enlightens what a number of scholars had already suggested, i.e. that the MILS can only be understood within the framework of French century-old aggressive secular humanism grounded in the French Revolution itself. Otherwise, ideas as the one expressed in footnote 9 in the report, that the U.S. today offer "sanctuary" to international "military cults" (a terminology normally used when dealing with Afghanistan or North Korea) would seem a simple incident of unchecked foolishness by individual anticultists unwisely invested with an official position.

Although marginalized and in crisis, the MILS still obviously has a lot of money (thanks to the more or less voluntary generosity of French taxpayers), and we learn that it is increasingly active abroad, particularly in smaller countries and in the post-Communist world, where there is a real risk that it will still be taken seriously. The MILS , thus, still casts its dark shadow on religious liberty in Europe and elsewhere. For friends of freedom of religion throughout the world, it is still cause of deep concern.

See full text of the Report 2000 (in French - HTML format)

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