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Anti-Cult Law in France

"Already Passed by the Assembly, the Anti-Cult Law is Criticized by the Churches"

by Xaver Ternisien ("Le Monde", September 16, 2000)

The Senate will have to debate, at the beginning of November, the anti-cult law passed by the Assembly on 22nd June. This text provides for the dissolution of legal entities in case of repeated criminal offenses and establishes a new crime of " mental manipulation ". This latter point, criticized by the Human Rights League, divides the representatives of the churches, some of them fearing its easy abuse.

The About-Picard draft law against "cults" (sectes), passed by the National Assembly on first reading on 22nd June (see "Le Monde" of 24th June) should be debated by the Senate at the beginning of November. The text, presented at the Assembly by (Socialist) MP of Eure, Catherine Picard, widens the penal responsibility of legal entities and makes their dissolution easier in case of infraction, in order to better fight cults. It also sets up a new criminal offense of "mental manipulation".

But, the governmental Mission to Fight Cults (MILS), presided by Alain Vivien, already breaks free from the About-Picard bill. In a note sent to the Prime Minister’s office, the MILS considers that the word "mental manipulation" used by the text and taken from the 1999 Parliamentary report on cults’ finances "is not the most appropriate one." The government may want, according to the MILS "to take this part away from the rest of the draft law."

The MILS is also worried by the "extraordinary world-wide and European mobilization lead by Scientology" which has "created problems for France abroad and in particular in the United-States." The 1995-1996 Parliamentary report on cults, which included a list of 172 groups regarded as cultic, is again criticized. For the American Department of State, this document has "contributed to create an atmosphere of intolerance towards minority religions."

The Anti-Cult Mission presided by Alain Vivien, suggests now to abandon the use of the list of cults included in the Parliamentary report. According to Mr Vivien, the dialogue would be impossible with "absolute cults" such as Scientology. But, he adds, French authorities could start some sorts of consultation with "structures" "whose creed and practices may breach French law ‘only’ due to their narrowness or totalism, including a tendency to separate the person from his or her family and social milieu." The MILS places in particular in this category Jehovah’s Witnesses. "Christian or Eastern movements" included in the second category may eventually no longer be "regarded as cults," concludes the Mission.

The proposal to create a new criminal offense of "mental manipulation " has excited a wave of protests, not only from the groups regarded as cults, but also from the Churches. The spokesperson of the French Catholic Bishops, Father Stanislas Lalanne, considers that the Parliament must "amend its text": "A crime of mental manipulation is so vaguely defined that it can bring on uncontrolled floods of unwanted consequences."

The President of the French Protestant Federation, Pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont, also considers that the About-Picard bill is "dangerous": during the traditional French Protestant "Assembly of the Desert", on 3rd September, he stated that the Protestants would be "particularly alert (…) in front of the project to legislate on cults."

Yet, some voices discordant from the Bishops’ Conference were heard in the Catholic Church who defended the draft law: the Bishop of Soissons, Monsignor Marcel Herriot, the Dominican theologian Jean-Marie Gueulette, Father Gaston Pietri, former deputy secretary general of the Episcopal Conference and Father Jacques Trouslard, a priest in Soissons who has been fighting cults for a long time. "The Catholic Church should not be afraid of this law, which in no case wants to interfere with religions and faiths," states Mgr Herriot.


Elisabeth Guigou, the Minister of Justice, had also called on 22nd June, for some "additional thinking," including consultations with the Human Rights League (LDH) and the National Commission of Human Rights (CNCDH). Michel Tubiana, president of the LDH and a member of the CNCDH, has already given his critical comments in detail. They are on the proceedings of " judicial dissolution " of cults, which have been found repeatedly guilty of criminal offenses: according to him, the procedure voted by the Assembly "does not allow to organize a defense." Regarding the creation of a new criminal offense of mental manipulation, Mr Tubiana considers that it raises "serious problems in its general principle." He would prefer that the existing article of the Criminal Code punishing the "fraudulent abuse of a state of ignorance or of a situation of weakness" be amended. This article could integrate ideas of "serious and reiterated pressures" and of " techniques capable of altering the judgement", present in the text of the bill. The CNCDH should give its conclusions on 21st September.

 See original French

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