LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday overturned the conviction of three members of the Raelian movement charged with religious discrimination for saying children receiving Roman Catholic instruction were at risk of assault by pedophile priests.
The Raelians — a quasi-religious sect that believes that life on Earth was created by clones of extraterrestrials — set up a group “Nopedo” and launched a leaflet and Internet campaign in 2001 alleging that the risk of suffering sexual abuse by Catholic priests was statistically much higher than by the general population.
The campaign charged that pedophile offenders who had been caught were only the “tip of the iceberg.”
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A group of 40 Catholic priests filed a complaint in a Geneva court saying the campaign were tantamount to religious discrimination. The court agreed and sentenced three members to two month suspended prison sentences.
But the Federal Tribunal on Friday overturned that ruling, saying that though the campaign may have been exaggerated, it was not discriminatory because it was aimed at individuals and not at the Roman Catholic Church in general.
The Raelian claims about the disproportionately high number of pedophile priests were “not completely without foundation,” the court said.
The high court also awarded the Raelians 3,000 Swiss francs (US$2,380) each in damages.
Nicolas Jeandin, a lawyer for the priests who filed the initial complaint, said he was considering appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
“The Federal Tribunal has clearly exceeded its authority in making such claims, which are unacceptable to all Catholics in Switzerland,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from the Raelians.
Last December, a company with ties to the Raelians announced the birth of the world’s first cloned baby at an undisclosed location in the United States, but the group has yet to offer proof.