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NEWS AND INVESTIGATIONS

 


From the MILS to the MIVILUDES

Régis Dericquebourg
Group of Sociology of Religions
University Charles De Gaulle - Lille 3 (France)

France's Sect Policy Since the Fall of the Socialist Government (covering one year of French events)

On 21 April 2002, the French elected Jacques Chirac, representing the moderate right, as president for the second time. The surprise had been, as it is known to everyone, that the leader of the National Front had come in second position before the socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, who was Prime Minister at the time of the presidential election.

At the parliamentary elections that followed the presidential election, the French sent a majority of deputies of the moderate republican right to the National Assembly. This enabled Jacques Chirac to rule as he wants. He appointed Jean-Pierre Raffarin as Prime Minister, who formed his government.

The outgoing coalition, which comprised socialist, green, communist and communist-related deputies, was known for its opposition to sects and to sect-like groups. The attempts to eliminate any form of non-conformist religiosity, whether it was denied or not, were criticised by international human rights organisations, religious freedom defence associations, foreign academics and politicians. That is why the circles interested in the social acceptance of minority religious groups and some of these groups have waited for the first measures to be taken by the French government with regard to sects.

---------------------- The global situation in France ----------------------

In France, the management of the religious sphere is based on the principle of separation of State and Churches which is enshrined in the 1905 Law. This is the legal translation of the philosophical concept regulating the relations between State and society, which we call laïcité, a word that cannot be translated in other languages. It is the legal expression of the social process through which religion gradually loses its influence on the individual and society and which is called secularisation. Page Up

According to the 1905 Law, the Republic does not recognise or finance any religious group. It does not interfere in internal matters of religions. With regard to religions, the Republic is only concerned with public order. For the commentators of the law, like Professor Jacques Robert, this law does not allow the Republic to make a distinction between historical Churches and sects. On the contrary. It opens the way to religious pluralism as there cannot exist any official religion or at least religions privileged by the State. This pluralism had been inaugurated by the Napoleonian Concordat in 1802 as it introduced the system of recognised religions limited at that time to Catholicism, Protestantism and in 1808 to Judaism. Pluralism, for major denominations, had been established.
The 1905 Law allowed to enlarge pluralism. Although minority religious groups can in principle practise their faith and develop freely, however, they do not necessarily receive the full recognition as what we call in French "association cultuelle", which is a special legal status granted by public authorities and allowing religious associations to receive donations and legacies, to have chaplains in prisons and in the army, to be exempted from some taxes, etc. Historical religions enjoy such a status. This full recognition is granted by the Office for Religious Affairs at the Ministry of Interior after its examining of the dossier and at the request of the religious movement. No sect enjoys full recognition. In fact, most of them have not applied for it.

In France, the resources raised to fight against sects are disproportionate with regard to the extent of religious non-conformism. In fact, the phenomenon of religious minorities is statistically unimportant. The major movements are: Jehovah's Witnesses (130,000 members + 70,000 sympathizers), Adventists, Evangelicals (God's Assemblies, Christian Open Door, Rom Evangelists), Mormons (31,000 members), Scientology, Soka Gakkai. Many groups number about 1000 faithful (Antoinists, Christian Science, IVI, Raelians, Aumism, Hare Krishna), The Family, (former Children of God) and Moonies have almost disappeared. Last but not least, there are also many small and short-lived New Age groups. The total number does not exceed 400,000. Among the historical religions, the major one is Catholicism, then Islam, Protestantism and Judaism.

---------------------- Is there some progress in the policy regarding
minority religious groups in France ?
---------------------- Page Up

In France, the management of the religious sphere is under the authority of the Office for Religious Affairs at the Ministry of the Interior. It has a juridical role and it conducts the proceedings about the applications for recognition. It also acts as the religious police. Under the pressure of anti-sect associations, however, the deputies have looked into the sect phenomenon.

A first report drafted under the authority of Mr Alain Vivien was tabled in 1983. A second report entrusted to Jacques Guyard (socialist party) and entitled "Sects in France" was handed over to the government on 22 December 1995. It is useless to question again the methodology used for that enquiry. It was largely criticised and discredited by numerous foreign and French researchers. The alarming conclusions, however, to which it led induced Mr Juppé, the Prime Minister of the moderate right which had come back to power, to create a Sect Observatory with Mr Guerrier de Dumast as president in 1996.

Back in power, the socialist government created in 1998, next to this agency, an organisation in charge of the fight against sects under the authority of the Prime Minister. It was called the Inter-ministerial Mission of Fights against Sects and its president was Alain Vivien, former leader of the anti-sect association "Centre contre les manipulations mentales" (Centre against mental manipulations) founded by a rationalist writer: Roger Ikor. The powers of this mission were not well defined.
In principle, it was meant to coordinate the fight against sects, which means that the then Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin made official the fight against sects. This mission comprised 40 people. It was in constant contact with anti-sect groups of which it was the official channel. It played an advisory role at ministries in which it created a network of agents whose mission was to thwart the actions of sects. Anti-sect cells were set up in the administration of the national education, youth and sports, social affairs.
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On 10 June 1999, deputy Jean-Pierre Brard released a report entitled "Sects and Money", the fruit of the work of an enquiry commission on the finances of minority religious groups.

The Inter-ministerial Mission of Fight against Sects backed the drafting of the About-Picard Law (12 June 2001) which received a very bad grade from legal experts and academics both in France and abroad. The general negative assessment can be summed up with this phrase of Patrice Rolland: "All in all, the law of 12 June 2001 is only a mediocre law which passively reflects the perplexity of the French public towards what is called sects. Through the lack of comprehension of its object and the meaning of these transformations of the religious space, it risks either to breach fundamental freedom or, because of the risks, to remain unheeded. This is probably the best thing we can wish." On 18 June 2003, after the fall of the socialist government, Alain Vivien resigned from the MILS which was then dissolved.

In face of the heritage of the management of the sect issue by the socialists, the moderate right government had the choice between several options: either to do nothing and to transfer the management of the minority religious groups to the Office for Religious Affairs at the Ministry of the Interior, or to come back to the sect observatory created by Mr Juppé, or to set up a new commission. The new Prime Minister opted for this last possibility. He had the choice either to put it under the authority of the Minister of the Interior in charge of religious affairs or to keep it under the responsibility of the Prime Minister. He chose this last solution. By a decree dated 28 November 2002, he instituted An Inter-ministerial Mission of Vigilance and Fight against sectarian deviances. Page Up

In its object, the MIVILUDES works as an observatory "of the movements with a sectarian character the schemes of which breach human rights and fundamental freedoms or threaten public order or are contrary to the laws and the regulations." It promotes prevention and repression of these schemes; it collects data on these movements and informs the public about the risks of sectarian deviances.

A president has been appointed: Mr Jean-Louis Langlais, senior officer of the Ministry of the Interior. The MIVILUDES is helped by a committee (President and secretary of a piloting executive committee which comprises members of various ministries) and an orientation committee composed of various personalities chosen on the ground of their expertise. The orientation council has three categories of members: deputies (8), associations (8), experts (14). The mission's mandate is three years.

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