The Anti-Cult Movement

The French Anti-Cult Law

Objections Made

General

The law attacks the essence of the freedom of conscience and association in France. It opens the door to all kinds of abuses6 and makes the practice of one's religion into a criminal offence7

Lumping Together

Ignorance and paranoia, fuelled by negative and sensationalist media reports, have led to a situation in which any non-mainstream churches are lumped together in people's minds with cults1, but it may also spell doom for several mainstream faiths as well.2

Arbitrary

The law gives arbitrary powers to judges to suppress beliefs and behavior that run against the mainstream. It would leave judges with a dangerous latitude to interpret what constitutes "serious prejudice". Judgement will be subjected to the fashions, to the variations of time, or to outside pressure.

Imprecise

The terminology used to make "mental coercion" a crime is vague at best and can be used to describe everything from marketing techniques to catechism classes.2

As there is no definition of "cult", it means that at some point in the future any group or association that was out of favor or unpopular could be designated cult-like. It could be used against any church if the mood changes in society.

Leaving such terms as "sect," "dependence" and "pressure" undefined7, the law could, for example, criminalize evangelism by deeming it an "exercise in serious and repeated pressure on a person in order to create or exploit a state of dependence1"

The respected French daily Le Figaro editorialized that the lifestyle of a Carmelite nun could easily fall foul of the anti-sect law in the future. "A young girl who has chosen to live outside of the world, who has given up her belongings, left her clothes, cut her hair, who obeys without a murmur to anything, works hard without any salary and gets up several times a night to recite prayers learned by heart may be considered one day, by a judge, as the victim of "mental manipulation'".

Sunday morning scene of absolute devotion to God where people gather to to worship, pray and hear from God are increasingly viewed as fanatical and irrational in France. Joel Thorton, of the European Center for Law and Justice, points out: ""This law puts [at odd] a person who has a sincerely held religious belief that they need to work to convert people to their religious beliefs.[...] It puts them at odds with the government almost from the moment they begin to evangelize people in public or in private.12"

Pastor Vince Easterman, whose evangelical church in Paris was among those blacklisted, adds: "If we want to have children's church, Sunday school, that can be seen as influencing minors. If we do work for old people, it's preying on vulnerable. If we want to have a time of prayer and fasting -- its seen as deprivation of food and sleep.12"

Imaginary Crimes

The law represents the latest effort of extremists in France to pass repressive legislation designed to infringe upon the rights of targeted minority religions by manufacturing means based on imaginary crimes (such as "brainwashing" or "being a cult") to ban disfavored minority religions that are otherwise law abiding.

Unenforceable

"Cults" and "mind control" are indefinable categories without precise scholarly or legal meaning. As such, any law dealing with these shadowy categories is clearly unenforceable.3

Safety vs Freedom

It's easy to believe that the French Government is involved in a conspiracy to destroy religious freedom for dubious reasons. Much more likely, however, is the notion that the legislators are genuinely trying to protect the citizens of France from a threat to their well-being. Like many such calls to protect the populace, this one has placed safety above what most people consider to be a basic human right.2

Separation of Church and State

The law effectively challenges the constitutional separation of church and state - entrenched in 1905 - by trying to define what religion is acceptable and what is not.1

In their attempt to keep some harmful individuals from hurting themselves or others, the French Government has proclaimed that the State is better able to judge religious worth than the individual. In such a scenario, both Church and State stand to lose a great deal.2

International Treaties

Religious liberty is a universal human right and part of international agreements in the 20th century and it is thus everyone's concern. If the French say, 'Itīs none of your business,ī that will just bring more scrutiny.

Dangerous Precedent

France is still seen as the cradle of human rights. Whatever law is passed there, other countries can copy and say it must be acceptable because it is French.

It  could set up a dangerous precedent for autocratic regimes like China seeking to crack down on minority faiths. It could be used by them as a template for laws to suppress the Falungong sect6. Newspapers in Hong Kong have reported that the territorial government is planning similar legislation to control the Falun Gong movement, which is outlawed as an "evil cult" in the rest of China but is still legal in Hong Kong. Lawmakers and administrators in such  countries use anticult initiatives of the minority of Western European states as justification for even harsher measures that have adverse impacts on a wide range of smaller but legitimate religious groups7.

French politicians are very proud of the law, arguing that they are leading the way in the fight against cults, and expressing hope other European countries would follow their lead1.

Belgium, Germany, Austria and several Eastern European countries have also officially identified "cults," many of them American, for close monitoring7.

On Dec 12, 2001, the representatives of Lithuania's Seimas, government and lawyers participated in a discussion at the Government with the advisor of French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, on the issue of new religious movements Jean Yves Defay11.