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Manipulation and deception : these lobbies who fuel hysteria
June 2009


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For more than a decade, 1 million euros has been spent every year out of taxpayers’ money to support specific lobbies. This waste of money is still going on and escaped so far the official cost reductions induced by the economic crisis.

When inquiring further into this situation, we found out a story of a carefully planned manipulation of public opinion and what looks like far away from the protection of the general interest. Or is there a covert agenda ?

« There is anti-cult hysteria in the air…a good answer was never born from amalgamating… There is a risk that chasing cults could become, by an excess of panic and lack of discernment, an absurd and useless inquisition. Is freedom of opinion, protected by the Declaration of Human and citizens’ rights of 1789, in danger today ? »

Unfortunately this warning, written by editorialist Ivan Rioufol in daily Le Figaro on November 13, 1996 is still accurate. It is enough for a suspect in any offense to be a member of a group labeled as a « cult » to start hysteria again, with a great deal of amalgams. But hysteria never develops spontaneously. It is created and fueled.

A few lobbies, and a few politicians looking for fame who support them, are fighting in France against minorities of beliefs they labeled as “cults”.

The first lobbies created to fight against new religions appeared in France in the mid-70s. Curiously enough, similar groups were established at the same time in the United States, in Europe and in Canada. It looks like there was some coordination. The French Guy and Claire Champollion established in Rennes the Association for the Defense of Family and Individual (ADFI)

Under influence of psychiatry

All these groups operated on a similar basis: using lawyers and politicians to get their messages through, trying to change the law and conveying the ideas of materialist psychiatrists who considered that belonging to a religious group was a mental trouble, like psychiatrists Clark et West. A letter by ADFI claimed a cooperation with psychiatrist Jacqueline Renaud. She had published in the magazine « Science et Vie » an article entitled « The empire of cults. Brain areas which reason doesn’t enter. » in which she explained that joining some religious groups was due to the existence of « archaïc areas » in the brain !

Psychiatrist Sophie Béal, who was for several years in charge of following up former adepts in ADFI, summarized the whole complexity of joining a religious group in one single sentence : « A member of a cult is not an authentic person, it is a fabricated figure who lives in an altered state of consciousness. » (Famille Magazine)

What ADFI never revealed in their publications is that all psychiatry assumptions considering an adept as a mentally ill patient were discredited by the scientific community. Dr Clark, for example, often quoted by ADFI, received a blame by his professional council because he had diagnosed a mental trouble on the only basis of his patient’s religious beliefs. Psychologist Margaret Singer, who inspired a large part of the theory of mental manipulation advocated by UNADFI, was officially rejected by APA in 1987. Thereafter, several courts rejected testimonies by Mrs Singer, stating that her theories were « lacking scientific and methodological rigor. » Since then, there was no more mention in the American courts of mental manipulation, brainwashing, psychological subjection, psychic rape, mental modification and other theories based on ideological prejudice rather than on a scientific basis.

However this unscientific theory was included in June 2000 in the French About-Picard law as «psychological subjection », for a good part because of the lobbying actions of UNADFI. At the moment of the vote of the About-Picard law, numerous experts protested against this vague concept being inscribed in the law. For example François Terré, Professor of Law, member of the Institute and President of the Association of Law philosophy, qualified the article 20 of the law of « gibberish likely to fuel endless discussions » and estimated that the new definition of psychological subjection was « dangerous ». As to the « techniques likely to alter reasoning », he said : « But everybody uses such techniques, I as a teacher, you as a journalist, advertising agencies, television. And all parents bringing up their children! »

Fighting against religious beliefs

The alter ego of ADFI, the Center against mental manipulations (CCMM), was established in 1981 by author Roger Ikor, Vice-President of the Rationalist Union. Despite the death of its founder, CCMM has kept his name on their letterhead. Works by Roger Ikor, published in the « Cahiers rationalistes », are chilling : « Yes, there is no difference of nature, or rather of principle, between a sect and a religion ; there is but a difference in degree and dimensions. [...] If we did what we wanted, we would put an end to all this gibberish, those of sects, but also those of main religions ». (Les cahiers rationalistes, 1980, n° 364).Such peremptory judgements can also be found in the liaison bulletins of ADFI, even if these lobbies claim that they refuse to judge beliefs: « indigent messages », « the dream of a mad man » ...

Recently, UNADFI dedicated a full issue of their review to the « doctrines of cults ». Their former president, Janine Tavernier, left the association in 2001, claiming that « a whole team of people [arrived] who feel like concerning themselves with² doctrines and philosophies. » This very group claims that they are not concerned with beliefs…

The danger of a drift of the fight against abuses by these lobbies to a fight against religions was criticized as early as 2000 by religious leaders during the debate prior to the vote of the About-Picard law. Pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont, then President of the French Protestant Federation, said in June 2000 : « In fact, behind the fight against cults, all religious groups should feel threatened. » (La Croix, June 22, 2000).

Public funds to support lobbies

Lobbies such as ADFI or CCMM are funded almost exclusively by public funds, which is somewhat ironical in a secular democracy where the law separating Churches from the State implies the neutrality of the state regarding beliefs and religious practices. The state cannot proselytize for any cult. It cannot either proselytize for private groups fighting against specific worships.

Other democracies refuse such a public infringement in a subject regarding philosophical and religious beliefs of citizens. Here is the answer sent by the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec (Canada) to an application for funds sent by the association « INFO-SECTE »: « It is not in the scope of the Ministry of Health and Social services to get involved in a sphere where religious freedom and its different practices are questioned. »

A decision by the European Court of Human Rights on April 5, 2007 (Church of Scientology of Moscow vs. Russia), applying to all member states, protects the believers’ freedom of religion and “right to free association without arbitrary infringements by the state”.

Public funds are considerably higher than the amount of donations received by these lobbies from their members, which in itself is an evidence that so-called cults are a « no problem » (see chart below). A true national cause nationale finds easily enough private financial support. The association « Solidarité Enfants Sida » [AIDS Solidarity for Children], for example, only gets 15% of public funds. For UNADFI, ADFIs and CCMM, the proportion is reversed with a tiny share of private funds and 96% of public funds.

The balance sheet of UNADFI for 2007 shows that memberships amounted to 3,305 euros compared to 359, 448 euros received as public funds. 1 compared to100. Moreover, the accounts show that the expenses under the headline « assistance to victims », which could be expected to be the main purpose of these associations, amount to 1,000 euros out of total expenses of 194, 745 euros. 1 compared to 200. Detailed documents are available on our website.

The activity report of UNADFI for 2007 states that UNADFI handled 1,464 phone calls from private persons in the year, i. e. roughly 5 phone calls per working day. Does such activity deserve the label “protecting the general interest” ?

Another indication of the low level of public interest, the website of FECRIS, a European lobby established by UNADFI and funded almost exclusively by French authorities, received an average of 435 visits per month over the last 5 years. As a comparison, the blog of the French Comittee of Scientologists against discrimination, an association exclusively funded by its members, gets more than 9,000 visits per month.

As to the CCMM, they benefited in 2001 2 Millions Francs (330,000 euros) as subsidies for its working expenses and an outstanding allowance of 4 Millions Francs (660,000 euros) from the Prime Minister to buy their headquarters. The same year, a legal administrator was appointed to manage the association. Then, two years later, the headquarters were sold to pay for the debts and replenish the association coffers.

In 2004, CCMM reported 5,300 euros of membership fees and 137,500 euros of allowances from ministries.

The government continues to designate UNADFI as an asociation of public utility (Association d’utilité publique) to publicly subsidize ADFI’s campaign of religious intolerance. In 2004, the French government granted 110,000 euros to ADFI in a letter signed by the Prime Minister. Yet, the very concept of fighting “destructive sects”, which constitues ADFI’s mandate, is anathema to international human rights standards as it attempts to make an arbitrary distinction between religions described as “good” and religions described as “bad”. Based on the public subsidies and laws allowing it to intervene in trials, ADFI has an obvious vested interest in “fighting” religious groups designated as “sects”. Such discrimination is incompatible with the duty of the state to remain neutral and impartial with respect to religions and with the policy of true religious pluralism.

Establishing a neutral and unbiased Observatory

In a recommendation voted on June 22, 1999 (recommendation 1412), the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe reminded the member states that it considered « inadequate the vote of major laws for cults for the reason that such laws could infringe on freedom of conscience and religion protected by article 9 of the European Convention of Human rights » and advised the member states to :

Create « national or local information centers on religious, esoteric or spiritual groups, independent from the state »

« use normal procedures of criminal and civil law against illegal practices applied on behalf of religious, esoteric or spiritual groups »

« encourage an approach of religious groups full of understanding, tolerance, dialogue and resolution of conflicts »

« take firm measures against any action which constitutes a discrimination or sets aside minority groups, religious or spiritual ».

France did exactly the contrary on every of these points. Instead of helping to create an observatory of religious, esoteric or spiritual groups independent from the state, the French government created an interministerial mission (MIVILUDES) to fight against cult abuses and continued to fund extremist lobbies despite its duty of neutrality. The law includes several freedom-killing dispositions which could be used against any religious group.

Many European countries established observatories for minority religious groups : Great-Britain, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Lituania, Hungary, Switzerland… All these countries favour an approach based on tolerance and dialogue rather than a repressive policy against new religious and spiritual groups.

This is what scholars are asking for in a forum published in Le Monde on April 7, 2008, entitled « Scholars criticize the French « anticult » crusade » :

« The solution lies in a serious body, including representatives of the civil society and scholars, like INFORM in our English neighbours, which is not there to condemn cults a priori but to inform, without fantasy, the officials and the public. »

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