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NEWS AND INVESTIGATIONS
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The MIVILUDES has set its first programme of action. Some comments, however, can be made on it.
1) The MIVILUDES targets sectarian deviances and not sects. Mr Langlais states that the change of name is meant to reassure sects which were concerned about religious freedom. The intention needs to be stressed but the MIVILUDES will very soon face a serious problem: how to define the "sectarian deviances". Sociologists can define the sectarian characteristics which constitute the elements of the ideal type of sect; they can identify sectarian characteristics in Churches and ecclesial characteristics in sects but how will legal experts deal with this concept? French law ignores the concept of "sect." Can it know the concept of "sectarian deviance" and define it in juridical terms? As we can see, the problem is only delayed but it remains unsolved and the commission may only discuss about the "gender of the angels." On the other hand, if the religious reference disappears, some will ask the "sectarian deviances" of all the movements to be covered, including political parties. In an interview taken by Willy Fautré, president of Human Rights Without Frontiers International, Mr Langlais shows that he is aware of that problem and states that it rather targets groups that have a criminal behaviour or which put the victims in a state of subjugation. But how to prove such things in courts? Mr Langlais admits that it is difficult.
2) Is the composition of the MIVILUDES so different from the MILS? A number of people were already in the MILS and others are well-known for their reserves or simply their hostility towards sects. The persons in charge of the sect issue in the various ministries join the piloting committee. The parliamentarians appointed to the orientation council have won fame through public negative interventions against sects. For example: Jean-Pierre Brard, Alain Gest and Nicolas About, one of the authors of the About-Picard Law. The anti-sect associations are represented alongside parent-teacher associations which expressed their hostility towards minority groups. Among the experts, some people are close to the ADFI /Association for the Defence of Family and the Individual and the CCMM/ Centre against mental manipulations which are very hostile to sects. In its interview with Willy Fautré on 3 March 2003, Mr Langlais justifies their presence by saying that "there will be no sectarian attitude towards these movements". According to its composition, the MIVILUDES can be expected to be prejudiced towards sects but we should not make a case against it based on assumptions, not facts. The same people can take up the issue differently according to the mission that will be granted to them. The minority religious groups, however, can fear the return of old reflexes.
3) The declarations of intention. In the press, the President of the MIVILUDES has immediately announced that the new mission would protect the minors and its vigilance would not be inferior to the MILS (La Croix, 14.01.03), Vingt Minutes (same date), Libération (same date). In an interview with the magazine La Vie (N° 2996, 30 January 2003), the President of the MIVILUDES states that the change of name means that the objectives have changed: the issue is not the fight against the groups themselves but the deviances they might have. He announces two priorities: the protection of minors and help to victims. The commentator of La Vie interprets it as a new orientation: the issue is not any more to repress but to help. The president of the MIVILUDES is portrayed as a man who is not from the "anti-sect seraglio." On the other hand, Mr Langlais states that the MIVILUDES will go on raising the awareness of school principals, magistrates and that trainers will be trained in the National Education.
On 4 April 2003, we were informed about another stand by Le Figaro. At the first meeting of the orientation council of the MIVILUDES, Mr. Pierre Steinmetz, director of the Prime Minister's cabinet, was said to have stated "The Prime Minister has wished that the work begun for some years through the impetus given by several parliamentarians (...) be continued and, if possible, be developed." He added that the public authorities did not have to limit their action to the recording of the breaches of freedoms but had "to identify and denounce behaviours which, prior to the violation of a freedom, threaten the latter's exercise." For the journalist who echoes this statement, " the leaders of major religious denominations and sociologists of religions who consider the fight against sects as a breach of the right to believe may grind their teeth in anger." In November 2002, the Prime Minister would have however said that "it is not the state's vocation to fight against sects" and the Minister of the Interior is said to have declared that "the sect issue must not become an obsession." It can be deduced from these different stands that the phenomenon of religious non-conformists poses a delicate problem to the government. 4) The decree instituting the MIVILUDES was challenged in court by the Church of Scientology.
We have tried to make a survey among people concerned by religious freedoms. The website of "Liberté Spirituelle" (Spiritual Freedom) has reproduced an article about the limits of the public relations actions which is rather pessimistic about the relationships between the religious groups and the media to open a debate. A correspondent who signs Cap France 1 answers that this text reflects the climate prevailing at the end of the years 2000-2001 but that the situation has changed " During all this year, the media has stopped stupidly reproducing the press files handed over to them by ADFI, CCMM and the MILS but now, they have begun to publish the arguments for and against almost systematically. A certain weariness towards anti-sect extremism can be noticed in the newspaper offices. Journalists do not believe in it any more, even if they are encouraged to blow up the issue. In private, some admit they solicit other viewpoints when the editor in chief has turned his back (true!)." As proof of such a development, he puts forward the fact that the MIVILUDES takes "a different orientation" (different from the MILS). The author of this message also adds that he has detailed testimonies about this change (unless I am mistaken, the signatory speaks on behalf of an association involved in the fight for religious freedom). A religious group has sent me letters and circular letters about itself which were delivered to him at his request by the administrations as evidence of transparency will.
After the fall of the left majority, the minority religious groups expected a change in the attitude towards them from the moderate right, on the basis of an alleged neutrality. The creation of a new mission on sects or, at least, on sectarian deviances has surprised them and its composition has irritated them. They globally go on granting some credit of trust to the right, however, although some have already given up expecting something positive. They say the right has created the MIVILUDES to meet the wishes of a certain public and the new government will be more open. The abrogation of the About-Picard Law would certainly symbolise a change in their eyes. In private, the minority religious groups confess that they remain vigilant and always ready to continue the fight against the behaviours they view as threatening towards them. It seems both sides are vigilant.
(*) This research work was presented at the conference held by the Cesnur, from 10 to 12 April 2003 at the University of Vilnius (Lithuania).
Cf Massimo Introvigne, ed. " Pour en finir avec les sectes "
Paris, Dervy, 1996.