Scientology Facing Murky Future in France
The Church of Scientology faces trial on deletion fraud charges in Paris, with the possibility that the organization, which claims around 5,000 active members in France in addition to a bevy of Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Cruise, could be banned in France if it loses.
While it enjoys an active presence in the U.S. — it has been recognized as a religious organization by the I.R.S. since 1993 — Scientology has faced strong opposition from French authorities.
France has refused to acknowledge Scientology as a religion, and Miviludes, the French government agency in charge of protecting its citizens from sectarian manipulations, has warned French citizens against participating.
“Scientology is a dangerous movement,” Milivudes president Jean-Michel Roulet told ABCNews.com. “It puts pressure on its victims, it tries to intimidate them and blackmails them.”
Isabelle Montagne, spokesperson with the Paris court of Justice, told ABCNews.com that if Scientology is found guilty of fraud or illegal practice of medical activities, the president of the Paris Scientology Celebrity Centre, one of the biggest centers in France, could be sentenced to seven years in prison and the organization could be forced to close its doors.
Part of the French wariness of Scientology likely stems from a culture that is skeptical of any purported religious organization that requires members to pay money, says Roulet, who says members spend up to $40,000 within their first years in Scientology.
In the latest legal challenge, the plaintiff in the fraud case reportedly says she was approached by Scientologists on a Paris street in 1998 and offered a free personality test. She says she was pressured to spend more than $28,000 for courses, books, illegally prescribed drugs and an “electrometer” that was supposed to measure fluctuations in her mental state, according to the BBC.
According to Roulet, legal procedures against Scientology are often laborious and the organization has often been acquitted.
“They have a lot of money and they can afford to pay a lot of lawyers,” said Roulet.
French members of Scientology who spoke to ABCNews.com said they see themselves as victims of the French secular system and of a typically Gallic religious narrow-mindedness.
Roger Gonnet, who said he was a prominent member of Scientology in Lyon, France, between 1974 and 1982, strongly disagrees.
“Scientology is a cult and a rip-off,” Gonnet told ABCNews.com.
“They promise you perfect health and a life without any problem,” said Gonnet, “but when I reached the highest levels of the organization I found out that their ‘secrets’ were completely dumb.”
“There were no positive results in my life, but fares kept going up,” he said.