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Anti-Cult Law in France

"French Anti-Cult Law: 'Senators hear objections to the offence of 'mental manipulation'"

("Le Monde", November 10, 2000 - English translation)

They heard religious leaders
FOR the first time, the representatives of the four major religions in France were heard in a parliamentary setting on the question of sects. In the Senate, Pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont, President of the Protestant Union, Jean Vernette delegate of the Catholic Episcopate, Joseph Sitruk, Grand Rabbi of France, and Dalil Boubakeur, vice-chancellor of the Mosque of Paris, were auditioned, on Wednesday, November 8th, by the Law commission, before the examination in second reading, at the beginning of January, of the proposed bill on the fight against the "groups of a sectarian nature".
Adopted unanimously by the National Assembly, on June 22nd, this text is likely to be significantly modified following reservations expressed by Elisabeth Guigou, when she was still Minister of Justice, by the National Consultative Commission of Human Rights and by the representatives of great religions. Nicolas About (UDF, Yvelines), rapporteur for the Law Commission of the Senate, had pushed through a vote, in the first reading of a law proposal planning the dissolution - on the basis of a 1936 text concerning militias - of groups "constituting a risk public order and a major danger for the human person". The proposition had been strengthened, at the National Assembly, by Catherine Picard (PS, Eure), who had added to it the creation of an offence of "mental manipulation" explicitly targeting sects.
Before the Law Commission of the Senate, the religious representatives renewed their criticisms on this proposition. Whilst they considered perfectly legitimate the fight against all the sectarian offences they also considered the current legal arsenal sufficient to prevent and to repress them. They warned the senators against the risks of excessive interpretation that could be introduced by the notion of "mental manipulation", considering this as "imprecise" and "dangerous".
Even if great religions do not feel targeted today, one cannot exclude, declared Mgr. Vernette, that a religious congregation might be harassed one day due to practices such as night-prayer or fasting. Pastor de Clermont also regretted the negative drift in the current climate of the "fight" against sects, quoting an "evangelical" minister who had recently been rejected from a parents' association.
The Jew, Moslem, Catholic and Protestant representatives expressed that they were for the creation of an independent and multi-disciplinary "observatory" - similar to the National Committee of Ethics - able to hear victims but also the suspected groups designated as sects. This independent Observatory - the one created by Alain Juppé in 1996, falls under the authority of the Prime Minister - would correspond to the wishes of the Council of Europe, concerned about the creation in France of the Interministerial Mission to Fight Against Cults chaired by the former socialist Minister Alain Vivien. Belgium, Switzerland, England and Italy have independent Observatories.
In their responses, the Senators underlined their intention to fight firmly against sectarian offences and their opposition to "any thought police". Mr About will meet Mrs Picard "to improve", the private bill, he said to Le Monde, " by saving the spirit of the National Assembly, but by amending it so that it is no longer questionable for the religious groups ". Magistrates and the Consultative Committee on Human Rights would like to transform the offence of mental manipulation into the broader offence of "placing someone in a state of weakness", which already partially exists in the Penal code.
Concerning the dissolution of groups of a sectarian nature, the authors of the proposition are also thinking about another formulation. The religious representatives said that the dissolution by a judge, voted by the National Assembly, should be replaced with an administrative dissolution under the control of the Council of State, applicable to any criminal group, whatever it may be. This proposition was favourably welcomed by Mr About.

(CESNUR's note: Italy, in fact, has no Observatory of Cults or Sects. It jas an Observatory of Religious Liberty, whose mandate is to ascertain violations of religious liberty. Under a draft law on religious liberty to be discussed in the parliament shortly, the mandate will be expanded to collecting data about all religions, old and new.)

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