The German domestic intelligence service keeps the Church of Scientology under surveillance as a potential threat to democracy. Belgian prosecutors have been building a blackmail case against it for 11 years.
Now the French have taken a more forceful step.
In a decision that could reverberate across Europe, a court in Paris Tuesday convicted the French branch of the church of “organized fraud” and said it had systematically tricked recruits out of their savings.
The two flagship Scientology outposts in Paris, a bookstore and an information centre, were ordered to pay €600,000 in fines. The head of the church in France was given a two-year suspended sentence for fraud and fined €30,000.
However, the court allowed the church to keep operating in France. In May, when the trial began, prosecutors asked that it be shut down as a criminal enterprise, only to discover that the law that might have allowed its banishment had just been deleted as part of an overhaul of the penal code.
The judges said they did not order the church offices closed because they did not want to drive Scientologists underground, where they could not be monitored.
They also said a paid notice of the church’s conviction would be published in Time magazine and the International Herald Tribune so that news of the church’s conviction would spread beyond France.
“The court told the Scientologists, in essence, to be very, very careful, because if you continue to use the same methods of harassment, you won’t escape next time,” said Olivier Morice, the lawyer for the civil plaintiffs in the case.
The U.S. State Department regularly criticizes efforts by France and other European countries to marginalize or regulate Scientology. The church itself has also been aggressive in defending its operations.
At least five other cases involving complaints against the church are under investigation by courts around France, according to press reports.
Tuesday’s ruling could encourage other unhappy Scientology recruits to come forward, said Catherine Picard, head of the French Association of Victims of Sects.
“They’ve had a real slap in the face,” she said. “Nationally and internationally, the word Scientologist will be associated with fraud.”
In the opinion of the publishers of Religion News Blog, the Church of Scientology is a commercial enterprise that masquerades as a religion, behaves like a cult, sells quackery at high prices, and has a history of hate- and harassment activities.
Regarding the U.S. State Department’s ill-advised defense of this destructive cult, see this brilliant editorial: U.S., the Germans — and Scientology.
We believe that legal action against the Church of Scientology is not an attack on religion — nor on freedom of religion — but rather a prudent way to protect innocent people from being defrauded, be it spiritually, mentally and/or financially.