The Anti-Cult Movement

The French Anti-Cult Law

What is the Law?

Mental Manipulation

Officially entitled "a bill directed to the reinforcement of prevention and repression of cultic movements which undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms", the law would punish "the fraudulent abuse of ... a person in a state of psychological or physical subjection resulting from serious pressures exercised or repeated or from techniques likely to alter his judgment, leading ... this person to an act or an abstention which are seriously harmful to him".

The law is basically a new version of the previous project that included the notion of "mental manipulation" which came under pressure from churches and human rights groups because it was dangerously imprecise and was reminiscent of  "mind-control", a concept that has been debunked by scholars in the 80's. Although the government claims that it has accepted international and domestic criticism and has eliminated the specific offence of mind control or brainwashing, the anti-brainwashing provision is still there, cosmetically disguised as an amendment of a pre-existing Section of the criminal code, Section 223-153
. In effect, it does create a new category of crime7.

The offence is punishable by a fine of up to $75,000 and five years imprisonment. Those found guilty of "brainwashing" also face a sort of civil death: they cannot exercise political, civil or family rights, work as professional or even sign checks for several years.3


The law would also allow courts to close down associations after one final decision against the cult itself or its de facto leaders, finding them guilty of one among a number of criminal offences. The criminal offences include personal violence, illegal use of medicines or misleading publicity, but also relatively minor offences such as breach of privacy or using the likeness of a person without its consent. One final decision where a de facto leader of a “cult” is declared guilty of one such offence is enough for the draconian remedy of banning the group.

Note that Section 223-15 which now includes the disguised clause of "mental manipulation" above is among those Sections whose breach, when confirmed by a final decision against the “cult” or its leaders, leads to the group’s ban.3


A reference to “cultic movements” is included in the law, notwithstanding objections that there is no definition of “cult”.3 Provisions in the law also make now a religious group itself a legal entity capable of being charged with a crime.2

Civil Parties

The bill enables private anti-cult associations to become party of court cases against “cults” on behalf of allegedly brainwashed victims and to collect damages.

Note that the so-called "brainwashed victim" does not even need to *consent* for the anti-cult associations to represent him: since he is "brainwashed", his opinion simply does not count.3

The full text of the law translated in English and commented by Massimo Introvigne can be read here.