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June 2009


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Le Monde – Saturday 30 May 2009

The sect, fraud, and the prosecutor

This trial which started on the 25th of May in Paris is a test to find out whether France remains especially watchful on sectarian abuses or if it has gone off-guard. One can remember the ambiguous statement on the President’s chief of staff, minimized since: “Sects are a no problem!” Scientology’s victims do not share the same opinion. Especially this woman, house keeper in a hotel who spent over 21,000 € in a few months for “life repair courses”, sauna sessions, vitamins and an “electrometer” supposed to measure her “areas of spiritual distress”.

The spokesperson of Scientology says it is a “heresy trial”. The case has however nothing to do with secularity or Inquisition. It is only a question of knowing whether this 1901 association, supposed to be a non-profit association, would not have a monomaniac tendency to profit of the psychological vulnerability of some individuals, to empty their bank accounts, which does not place it closer to a religion nor a business, but to a blend of both surmounted by a Mafioso and coercive trend making all the difference.

If the parish of Lourdes started selling small bottles of blessed water at the price of the caviar, if its priests were trained to sell a regiment to each granny crossing the door step, at the risk of ruining them, it would qualify to be considered as a sect. If the priest and his altar boys would on top of it start to manage their lives with the purpose to make them think the moon is made of green cheese and sell them that at the price of a Rolex... one should be able to condemn them for “fraud in organized band”.

This is what is at stake at this trial. In the long run, the association representing Scientology in France is risking to be disbanded pursuant to the About-Picard Act, adopted in 2001 with the idea to contain sectarian movements by creating a “offense of fraudulent abuse of the state of ignorance or weakness”.

The case is strong. Ten years of investigation. However, Scientology says it is confident. The reason of this optimism? A surprising dismissal required by the Prosecutor after the investigation. This does not mean that the Public ministry will not change its opinion after the trial. It has accepted that the National Union of the Defense of Families and Individuals (Unadfi) constitute itself civil party.

But, this requisitory remains suspected – rightfully or wrongfully – to reflect a political intention, rather mild. He was heard in 2006, at a time when the ministry of interior wanted to show itself benevolent towards sectarian movements. A real change compared to the previous years, which correspond to the time where Nicolas Sarkozy was on that post.

In 2003, the members of the Mission of Vigilance on sectarian abuses (Miviludes) remember to have attended a colloquium where the lawyer of the Jehovah Witnesses and Daniele Gounord, the spokesperson of Scientology, had dinner with a responsible terminal of the Office of Religions of the ministry of interior. On the same year, a RG agent who has published a thesis on Scientology, Arnaud Palisson, was fired upon request of the sect.

The courtesy is continuing at the ministry of finances where Nicolas Sarkozy accepted to meet Tom Cruise, ambassador of Scientology, to talk cinema, of course. The same Public ministry published a book in favor of a more tolerant secularity, where the word sect “would not be used anymore wildly”. It points out that the matter is not to fight sects but only “sectarian abuses”. Less by complacency that by a concern to bring a more American view of freedom of religion, where the freedom of manipulation is confused with the freedom of religion and come before vigilance. Nothing says that this priority has changed since.

Caroline Fourest

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