Now if only they’d do the same for Christianity and Islam..
A French court has convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud, but stopped short of banning the group from operating in France.
Two branches of the group’s operations and several of its leaders in France have been fined.
The case came after complaints from two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into paying more than 20,000 euros (£18,100) in the 1990s.
A Scientology spokesman told the BBC the verdict was “all bark and no bite”.
France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion.
Prosecutors had asked for the group’s French operations to be dissolved and more heavily fined, but a legal loophole prevented any ban.
Instead, a Paris judge ordered the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a bookshop to pay a 600,000-euro fine.
Alain Rosenberg, the group’s head in France, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and fined 30,000 euros.
Three other leading members of the group were also fined.
Ban ‘still possible’
Unlike the US, France has always refused to recognise Scientology as a religion, arguing that it is a purely commercial operation designed to make as much money as it can at the expense of often vulnerable victims, the BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby reports from Paris.
Over the past 10 years, France has taken several individual members of the group to court on charges of fraud and misleading publicity, but this is the first time the organisation itself has been charged, she says.
Tommy Davis, spokesman for the Church of Scientology International, told BBC News that the court had acted “in total violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and French constitutional guarantees on freedom”.
The case “fell flat on its face”, he said.
“The fines will get thrown out on appeal. We’ve had similar cases before and in other countries. If it has to go to the court of human rights we’re confident we will win there.”
Speaking by phone from the US, he said it was a “political gesture” against the organisation, but “Scientology will continue to grow in France”.
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and includes Hollywood stars such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
In the case leading up to Tuesday’s ruling, a woman said she was sold expensive life-improvement courses, vitamins and other products after taking a personality test.
A second woman alleges she was fired by her Scientologist boss after refusing to undergo testing and sign up to courses.
The organisation denied that any mental manipulation took place.
The court was unable to impose a ban because of a legal amendment that was passed just before the trial began, preventing the banning of an organisation convicted of fraud.
However, that amendment has now been changed.
“It is very regrettable that the law quietly changed before the trial,” Georges Fenech, the head of the Inter-ministerial Unit to Monitor and Fight Cults, told French TV.
“The system has now been put in place by parliament and it is certain that in the future, if new offences are committed, a ban could eventually be pronounced,” he said.
A lawyer defending Scientology’s operations in France said there would be an appeal.
Eric Roux, a spokesman for the Celebrity Centre, urged France to recognise Scientology’s “legality”.
“Religious freedom is in danger in this country,” he said.
Up next, Islam? :D
PARIS — In a groundbreaking case, a Paris court will decide for the first time whether to dissolve the Church of Scientology in France, which is facing charges of organized fraud.
The demand was made by French prosecutors on Monday as they wrapped up their case against the church’s Paris headquarters and bookshop. If found guilty, the institutions may also face a nearly $6 million fine.
Six members of the church are also on trial, and may also face heavy fines along with prison sentences if convicted.
The plaintiffs, two former Scientologists, claim the church conned them into spending tens of thousands of dollars in bogus products in the 1990s, including an “electrometer” that the church says can measure energy levels.
But the church, which claims a membership of 45,000 in France, rejects the accusations and claims it is being persecuted.
The plaintiffs, are “apostates who … want to criticize their ex-religion,” Fabio Amicarelli, a European Scientology representative, told French media recently.
While the charges pose the most serious challenge to the French church to date, they are only the latest clash in a nearly two-decade long battle against Scientology. Several fraud cases have already been judged and several members convicted of embezzlement in France, where Scientology is viewed with deep suspicion.
In one case, the head of the church’s Lyons chapter was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1996 for his role in a member’s suicide.
Founded in 1954 by late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the church is considered a religion in the United States with adherents that include Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
The French government, however, lists Scientology as a sect, reflecting an official intolerance of unorthodox religions. Indeed, the government even has an official sect watchdog body — known as MIVILUDES, the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances.
A government report published in May said the number of religious sects had tripled in France over the past 15 years to at least 600 different movements.
The Church of Scientology has gone on trial in the French capital, Paris, accused of organised fraud.
The case centres on a complaint by a woman who says she was pressured into paying large sums of money after being offered a free personality test.
The church, which is fighting the charges, denies that any mental manipulation took place.
France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion, and the organisation could be banned if it loses the case.
It will be the first time the church has appeared as a defendant in a fraud case in France. Previous court cases have involved individual Scientologists.
Books and medication
The woman at the centre of the case says she was approached by church members in Paris 10 years ago, and offered a free personality test. But, she says, she ended up spending 21,000 euros ($29,400, £18,400) on lessons, books and medicines she was told would cure her poor mental state.
Her lawyers are arguing that the church systematically seeks to make money by means of mental pressure and the use of scientifically dubious “cures”.
A lawyer for the church, Patrick Maisonneuve, said: “We will contest every charge and prove that there was no mental manipulation.”
The church’s spokeswoman in France said it was being “hounded” by the French courts.
Scientology was founded in the United States in the 1954 by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. High profile supporters include the Hollywood stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
In Germany last year, it was declared unconstitutional.
However, a Spanish court ruled that the Church of Scientology of Spain should be re-entered into the country’s register of officially recognised religions.
The lawyer for one of the plaintiffs behind the case told the BBC that if convicted the controversial Church could be banned.
The Church has faced stiff opposition in France as well as Germany, where it has been declared unconstitutional.
The French branch of the Church of Scientology said it had been cleared of “numerous” similar charges.
It said such charges should not be brought to court again.
This case stems from claims by a woman who said she was approached by Scientologists in a Paris street in 1998 and offered a free personality test.
She says she ended up handing over more than 20,000 euros (Â£16,000) for courses, books, illegally prescribed drugs and an “electrometer” supposed to measure fluctuations in her mental state.
Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the woman and for one other plaintiff in the case, says the case could be brought before the court by the end of the year or in early 2009.
Scientology was founded in the United States in the 1950s by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard.
It has attracted stars such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and the late Isaac Hayes.
But it been accused in some countries of cult-like practices and exploiting its followers financially.
Scientologists reject this and say that they promote a religion based on the understanding of the human spirit.
France refuses to recognise Scientology as a religion, categorising it as a purely commercial operation and keeping it under surveillance.
In Germany last year, federal and state interior ministers declared the Church of Scientology unconstitutional, and in France in 2000 a government committee recommended dissolving the Church.
However, in October a Spanish court ruled that the Church of Scientology of Spain should be re-entered into the country’s register of officially recognised religions.
Â Nice to see some courts tearing apart religions for forcing their trash on others. Fuck Sharia Law.
France has denied citizenship to a Moroccan woman who wears a burqa on the grounds that her “radical” practice of Islam is incompatible with basic French values such as equality of the sexes.
The case yesterday reopened the debate about Islam in France, and how the secular republic reconciles itself with the freedom of religion guaranteed by the French constitution.
The woman, known as Faiza M, is 32, married to a French national and lives east of Paris. She has lived in France since 2000, speaks good French and has three children born in France. Social services reports said she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Her application for French nationality was rejected in 2005 on the grounds of “insufficient assimilation” into France. She appealed, invoking the French constitutional right to religious freedom and saying that she had never sought to challenge the fundamental values of France. But last month the Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, upheld the ruling.
“She has adopted a radical practice of her religion, incompatible with essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes,” it said.
“Is the burqa incompatible with French citizenship?” asked Le Monde, which broke the story. The paper said it was the first time the level of a person’s personal religious practice had been used to rule on their capacity be to assimilated into France.
The legal expert who reported to the Council of State said the woman’s interviews with social services revealed that “she lives almost as a recluse, isolated from French society”.
The report said: “She has no idea about the secular state or the right to vote. She lives in total submission to her male relatives. She seems to find this normal and the idea of challenging it has never crossed her mind.”
The woman had said she was not veiled when she lived in Morocco and had worn the burqa since arriving in France at the request of her husband. She said she wore it more from habit than conviction.