Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scientology conviction in France

The Church of Scientology has been convicted of fraud in France. I know a lot of people have been gunning for Scientology and this will vindicate their position. I still feel uncomfortable by the fact that they are not recognized as religion and are placed under a more loaded term of "sect" (see an earlier discussion: Cults, Sects, and the Scientology Trial). In fact, the US State Department has criticized several European countries (Belgium, Germany, etc) for labeling Scientology as a sect and for restricting their activities. Germany, in particular, has been quite harsh and has moved in the past to ban the Church of Scientology. We may disagree with religious practices, but the line impeding freedom of religion is not that far - especially for the French, who are also dealing with banning headscarves in state schools. In any case, here is the French Scientology case:

The court convicted the Church of Scientology's French office, its library and six of its leaders of fraud. Investigators said the group pressured members into paying large sums of money for questionable financial gain and used ''commercial harassment'' against recruits.

The group was fined euro400,000 ($600,000) and the library euro200,000. Four of the leaders were given suspended sentences of between 10 months and two years. The other two were given fines of euro1,000 and euro2,000.

The court did not order the Church of Scientology to shut down, ruling that it would be likely to continue its activities anyway, ''outside any legal framework.''
May be they have been pressuring and defrauding people more than other religions - perhaps that is what convinced the court, but here is the bit that makes me think twice about it:

The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology, founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has been active for decades in Europe, but has struggled to gain status as a religion. It is considered a sect in France and has faced prosecution and difficulties in registering its activities in many countries.

And here is some information about the case was about:

The original complaint in the case dates back more than a decade, when a young woman said she took out loans and spent the equivalent of euro21,000 on books, courses and ''purification packages'' after being recruited in 1998. When she sought reimbursement and to leave the group, its leadership refused. She was among three eventual plaintiffs.

Investigating judge Jean-Christophe Hullin spent years examining the group's activities, and in his indictment criticized what he called the Scientologists' ''obsession'' with financial gain and practices he said were aimed at plunging members into a ''state of subjection.''
Read the full story here.

P.S. Also, Paul Haggis has left the Church of Scientology.


Sabio Lantz said...

I think I see your point and think I agree.

People should be able to practice religion freely. But religion, like any other human activity may not be used to fraud others, hurt others or coerce others.

Too many people change their political philosophy (love of freedom) when it comes to something they feel strongly about. They want to use government to control those they dislike. We should only use government to stop injustice.

Is that one of your points?

Salman Hameed said...

I agree that fraud needs to be taken into account. But, yes, if the government first officially identify a group as a cult/sect, then that may already color the accusations. Remember, they are not allowed to register as a religion in France, Germany, etc. but at other places (Spain, US, etc), they are considered a religion. From what I have read, Scientology leaders are no angels either. But this should not prevent them from getting a status as a religion - we've had far worse religious leaders.

Regarding your larger question - I would be weary of government deciding what is and isn't religion - because certain protections can be removed if religion label is not applied. In this sense, yes, it would be better for the government to err on the side of protection and preventing injustice.

Not the case here, but in Pakistan, the government has also decided who can call themselves a Muslim and who can't. Thus, Ahmadis, cannot call themselves Muslims nor can they call their mosque, a "mosque". These changes were made in the constitution. This is a particularly extreme example, but then France is telling some of its citizens whether what they are practicing is considered "officially" a religion or not.

Its all a bit messy.

Sabio Lantz said...

yeah, being a religion should matter no more to a government than being a corporation or an individual. It would be nice if the special class of religion just disappeared.

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