Like for the previous 1980's attempt, opposition to these law don't merely come from the new religious movements. While the European Parliament and other countries rejected sect legislation, the French measure came under fire by the US administration, the established churches, European deputies and human rights groups.
U.S. Department for Human Rights
Since the bill was published, US assistant secretary of state for human rights has spoken of Washington's concern about its "dangerously ambiguous" language.
Council of Europe
50 members of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly called for the suspension of this law until the completion of a report on religious rights in France.
The two main leaders of the Catholic and Protestants Churches of France, Cardinal Louis-Marie Cardinal Billé, President of the French Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Pastor Jean Arnold de Clermont, President of the Protestant Federation of France, expressed on May 22, 2001, in a letter sent to the Prime Minister, their "reserves" about the draft law.
While the signatories appreciated the effort of the members of Senate, which consisted in the broadening the offence of a deceitful abuse of state of ignorance or of a situation of weakness rather than establishing an offence of "mental manipulation", the religious leaders regreted that, although the offence of mental manipulation disappeared officially from the draft law, its definition remained present in the text. "Who will judge of the harmful character " of the "act or abstention", asked the two signatorie. For them, the interpretation of this article is left open "to the personal appreciation of the judges ": "judgement will be subjected to the fashions, to the variations of time, or to outside pressure". Together with other litigous points of the draft law, this would eventually be likely "to change the spirit of this law and strike a blow at fundamental liberties".
The religious leaders also asked for the word "cultic" to disappear from the title of the law, the notion of "cultic group" being " legally undefinable".
Since the About-Picard private bill against "groups of a cultic character " was adopted in first reading by the National Assembly, on June 22nd, 2000, the representatives of the great religions expressed, repeatedly, their anxieties about the "dangers" that this text would have for freedom of religion. At their request, they had been heard, at the end of 2000, by the Law Commission of the Senate and the Cabinet of Lionel Jospin.
Pope John Paul II also said when accepting the credential of a new French ambassador to the Vatican in June 2000 that discrimination against "one or other form of religious practice ... will necessarily create a climate of tension, intolerance, opposition and suspicion, not conducive to social peace."
Religious Liberties Activists
Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said in a statement that "this 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 a means to ban disfavored minority religions from France. ... It is great shame that a liberal democratic society like that of France - a bastion and cradle of western democratic thought and civilization - would deprive its citizens of their most basic human rights".
The Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice is also firmly opposed to the legislation. Its executive director, Joel Thornton, said however that, ironically, French churches may now find it easier to challenge any attempted discrimination in court. With the law now in force, lawyers have something much more concrete to work with than a simple list of cults. Thornton said the ECLJ had attorneys willing to work for religious liberties and defend churches, helping them to make legal arguments before the courts. Set up in 1998, the ECLJ aims "to safeguard and protect human rights and religious freedoms for people of faith in Europe1."
Professor W. Cole Durham, director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Utah's Brigham Young University addressed the danger for some Asia countries to capitalize on the current European oppression: "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 groups," he said at a U.S. Senate committee hearing in May 20017.
France is now listed sixth in the "Aid to Church in Need" 2001 report of countries where religious freedom is or could be violated. The number one spot of this negative listing is occupied by China. Between the two are Indonesia, Sudan, Nigeria and Turkmenistan. Andrea Morgi, one of the secretaries of the ACS, justified the bad rating of France by its anti-cult law which, in his opinion, could have negative impact on life in monasteries, on the organization of Christian communities or on other religions.9
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), a Roman Catholic and the U.S. co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission - which monitors human rights in Europe - was quoted as saying he hoped the commission would investigate the new French law in its meeting on July 2001. "There is no question the anti-sect law flies in the face of the commitments agreed to in the Helsinki Final Act. This law is clearly in violation of an individual's fundamental human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief," Smith said1 Mr. Smith also suggested that the United States take the issue to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.