ATTACKS ON NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS
Topics covered in this essay:
Overview of the Counter-Cult Movement:
In the 1960's, a Anti-Cult Movement (ACM) was founded in the
United States. It was created in response to the many small new religious movements
(NRM) - often headed by a single charismatic leader. Young adults flocked to these
groups, seeking an intense spiritual experience and inter-personal intimacy. Some of these
movements encouraged their followers to sever relationships with their friends and
families of origin. Many followers abandoned their academic pursuits in order to devote
more time to the movement. Some parents became alarmed, fearing that their children had
become the mindless victims of mind control techniques and
brainwashing. A movie The Manchurian Candidate (1962), dealt with mind control.
Although it was a work of fiction, and based on non-existent science, it convinced much of
the public that such control was possible.
A series of incidents involving loss of life in small destructive,
religious groups (including those at Jonestown and Waco) raised public concern about
"cults" in general. However, by the late 1990's, the
had largely run out of steam in the United States. Some within the movement had committed
very serious criminal acts, assaulting and brutally kidnapping members of NRMs and
forcibly confining them. A series of legal cases put the largest of these groups out of
But even as fear of "cults" started to diminish in North America, it was on
the ascendancy in some European countries - particularly in Russia,
Germany and France. Public fears were greatly increased by a
religiously motivated mass suicide-murder of members of the Solar Temple group in
southeast France on 1995-NOV-16. 13 adults and 3 children died. The government of
France responded with oppressive measures directed against various benign religious
In the French language, the English phrase "destructive cult" can be
translated as "sectes". The French word "cultes"
refers to religious rituals of faith groups, and does not carry a negative meaning. This
is the original meaning of "cult" in English, before it developed it present
In 1981, an Information Mission on Cults was formed within the French Law
Commission . This was followed by a report written by Alain Vivien at the request of
the Prime Minister during 1982 and 1983. It was published in 1985 as: "Cults in
France: Expression of Moral Freedom or Factors of Manipulation." It is commonly
referred to as the Vivien Report.
There was little official interest within the government of France concerning new
religious groups until the mass murder-suicide by the Order of
the Solar Temple in 1994, and the gas attack in Tokyo by the Aum Shinri Kyo in 1995. On 1995-JUN-29, the National
Assembly established a parliamentary inquiry commission into new religious groups.
The commission started its activities on JUL-18. It had no "ethnologists,
sociologists and historians of religions." on staff 6
They held 20 hearings during a secret session lasting 21 hours. Such secrecy is normally
applied only in matters of national security. They presented a report on 1995-DEC-22 to
the National Assembly. 11
Jacques Guyard, of the Socialist Party, was the vice-chairman of the commission on
cults during the interval 1995-1996. Jean-Pierre Brard, of the Communist Party, was
Rapporteur. They prepared what has been called the "Guyard Report,"
which includes a listing of 173 new religious groups. Included were Baptist
denominations, the Charismatic Catholic Renewal Movement, the Jehovah's Witnesses,
the Jesuits, Opus Dei, the Church of Scientology and the
Unification Church. Many people consider this a
"black list" of harmful or dangerous sects; it appears to be a simple list of
NRMs. The report was leaked to the press in 1996, who have been using it to circulate
"rumors and false information, inciting religious intolerance with impunity."
6 Much of the data that went into the report came from the
"Renseignements Generaux," the French intelligence service. These data remain
classified to the present time; faith groups on the list have been unable to challenge
their inclusion. The committee also based its findings on French anti-cult groups such as
the National Union of Associations for Defense of the Families and the Individual
(UNADFI, The Associations of Defense of the Families and the Individual
and the Center Against Mental Manipulation (CCMM). Input from academics who have
specialized in the study of new religious movements was not included; the commission
refused to hear them.
The International Department of the Rutherford Institute, tracks anti-Christian
discrimination in countries outside the United States. In 1997-MAY, they expressed concern
about the Guyard Report. 1 At least one Evangelical pastor
complained that his church has lost both staff and members as a result of the inclusion of
his church on the list.
The Rutherford Institute asked French President Jacques Chiraq to have the list
reviewed and revised, in order to "remove organizations that prove to be
reputable." John Whitehead, president of the Institute, said that "France's
'list' is the first step towards tyranny. Its government must ensure that religious
freedom is reaffirmed and no further steps taken."
Human Rights Without Frontiers, (HRWF) a European group dedicated to civil
rights, believes that persecution of religious minorities is increasing in France. They
||Minority religions have been marginalized. They find difficult, or more expensive, to
rent halls for public meetings. School children from small religious groups have been
||Jehovah's Witnesses have been targeted by the government. HRWF feels that they
will be a test case. If there is little reaction from the public, then the persecution
will expand to other religious groups.
||The government plans to eliminate minority religions one at a time.
In early 1998-JUL, the French Observatory on Cults released its annual report.
They conclude that "Cults represent a real threat for the State, the society and
individuals; it is therefore the task of the Observatory to fight against this threat."
9 In common with anti-cult groups worldwide, the Observatory
has tended to consider all "cults" to be dangerous. They reported that 50
organizations in France are indoctrinating children. This they believe is an increase from
28 in 1996.
Taxing the Jehovah's Witnesses:
Jehovah's Witnesses are well established as a large
Christian religion in France. They have been active there as the "Association Les
Témoins de Jehovah " since 1900. There are approximately 220,000 Witnesses in
that country, and almost 15 million worldwide. Many French families have belonged to this
group for over five generations.2 They have a separate company
that prints and distributes magazines and books. The latter pays taxes to the state as a
commercial organization. But until now, the main religious organization has been free of
Incredible as it may sound, the French Tax Administration has ruled that the Witnesses
are not a "worship association." Rather, they are considered to be a
potentially dangerous sect. Fiscal services determined that "the association of
Jehovah's Witnesses forbids its members to defend the nation, to take part in public life,
to give blood transfusions to their minor children and that the parliamentary commission
on cults has listed them as a cult which can disturb public order."
In 1998, the government of France imposed a 60% tax on religious offerings given by Jehovah's
Witnesses to their organization, the local branch of the Watchtower Bible &
Tract Society (WTS). A lien has also been established against their headquarters and
printing plant. The intent appears to be to bankrupt the group. The Interior
Ministry has refused to register the Temoins de Jehovah as an "association
cultuelle" or "association culte." Thus they assert that
member's contributions are taxable at the normal 60% rate for gifts in that country, under
a 1992 law. The government has calculated that 303 million in French Francs ($50 million
in US funds) is owed to the government. This represents 150 million in tax plus 60% in
penalty charges and interest). This represents taxes not collected for the past 5 years.
The Minister of Finance has refused to confirm this assessment, citing the confidential
nature of the information. They do acknowledge that negotiations continue with the
On 1998-JUL-1, a demonstration was organized at the Esplanade of Human Rights
near the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. Jehovah's witnesses from 15 EU member
countries protested the tax. They also visited embassies, foreign ministries and selected
members of the French parliament.
Spokesperson Lyman A. Swingle, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah's
Witnesses said: "If taxes are owed, the religious organization should pay.
However, if our religion is targeted unfairly and illegally for exorbitant taxes, then it
has a right to protest...When the law grants exemption from taxes to religious
organizations and that exemption is allowed to the two largest Christian religions in the
country but withheld from the third largest Christian religion, then we feel that
something is seriously wrong." Swingle also wrote an open letter to Jacques
Chirac, the President of France. He said, in part: "The ability to practice
religion freely is a basic human right, supported by the United Nations Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Constitution
of the French Republic. Yet the tax authority believes it has the right to use its
power of taxation arbitrarily to restrict some religions but not others." He
asked for the President's "support in removing this unjust and discriminatory
tax...avoiding a dangerous threat to religious freedom and human rights in France".
The WTS took out full-page advertisements in the New York Times 7
for 1998-JUL-5 and in the International Herald Tribune for 1998-JUL-8. They
accused the French government of a "shocking display of religious discrimination."
Washington Times columnist, Mark Kellner, commented: "I do not agree,
doctrinally, with the Jehovah's Witnesses. But having been born in a land founded for
religious freedom -- and having seen in my lifetime the effects of a lack of such freedom
-- I am very concerned that we as Christians speak up, online and in person, against
The Jehovah's Witnesses won their case before the High Administrative Court.
The ruling in 2000-JUN stated that listing Witnesses as a "sect" is
insufficient grounds for denying it tax exemptions which have traditionally been
given to religious bodies.
The WTS has a long, historical record of successful court battles in the U.S. and
Canada which have gone a long way to define religious freedom in these two countries. The
next few years may see them forced to accomplish the same task in France.
The government also took action against a small church, the Evangelical Pentecostal
Church of Besancon. The government does not class it as a worship
association either. The
church has been assessed a tax of about $80,000 USF. (Another source 9
says $500,000 USF) Like the Witnesses, this church is included in the Guyard Report
According to data published in 1993 by the Interior Ministry, only 149 out of a total
of 1,053 Protestant associations and only 2 out of thousands of Muslim associations in
France are currently entitled to tax exempt status. All of the groups which are not
recognized are presumably now at risk of losing their freedom of religion and of assembly.
||The French government claims to have about 150 investigations of new religious groups
underway. However, no charges have been made because there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
||Cases were brought against individual members of the Church
of Scientology. The court decision found some individuals guilty. However, it
acknowledged that they were not following church policy at the time. The court ruling also
found that the Church of Scientology had every right to exist as a religion
according to the European Convention on Human Rights. The French government has appealed
this decision to the French Supreme Court
||The Family (a.k.a. Children of God, Family of
Love) were raided in the mid-1990's and charged with child abuse. Child welfare
officials in other countries did as well. All charges have been dropped; there was no
evidence of child abuse; the charges were unfounded.
On 1998-OCT-7, in response to the report of the French Observatory on Cults,
the President of France issued DECREE No. 98.890: "Establishing an
Inter-ministerial Mission to Fight Against Sects." 8 The
document revoked an earlier decree (#96.387, 1996-MAY-9) which created an Inter-ministerial
Observatory on Sects. The new mission will:
||consolidate information that various Government department collect about sects
||be authorized to require other departments to conduct surveys or research into cults.
||inform other departments of instances of "sects that violate human dignity or
threaten public order."
||inform the Public Prosecutor of any acts by sects that should be prosecuted.
||educate public representatives on "methods to fight against sects"
||educate the public on the "danger that the sect phenomenon represents"
||attend international meetings on sects
The Mission will be led by Alain Vivien, the author of one of the original anti-sect
reports published in 1985. He is currently the president of an anti-cult group "Center
Against Mental Manipulation" (CCMM)
For centuries, France has had an excellent reputation in the preservation of human
rights. Freedom of speech, religion, and assembly now appear to be vaporizing in that country.
||1998-NOV-17: The Inter-ministerial Mission to Fight Against Sects appears to be a major
first step towards a significant loss of freedoms of thought, religion, and assembly in
France. The European
Human Rights Office of the Church of Scientology commented: "...it is clear that there is a campaign ongoing to sensitize public
opinion against minority religions by labeling them indiscriminately as 'dangerous sects'
thus marginalizing and attempting to criminalize them. This manipulation of public opinion
is done almost daily at the moment with press, radio and television articles centering on
the supposed dubious activities of sects whilst interviewing the main opponents of
minority (and majority) religious movements." 9
"...the Minister of Justice announced in the National Assembly that...a 'Mr.
Sect' (as it was dubbed in the media) - a magistrate - was to be placed in every Court of
Appeal to co-ordinate the fight against sects."|
||1998-OCT-28: A Human
Rights Without Frontiers speech to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE) Implementation Meeting in
Warsaw stated that a Parliamentary Inquiry into the "assets, financial and fiscal aspects
of sects; their economic activities and their relations within economic and social fields"
is expected to be set up in 1998-DEC or 1999-JAN. "Two laws are now to be voted
by the National Assembly. The first one is meant to control the finances of 'cults'
more strictly. The second one is dealing with the control of home schooling practiced by the
children of members of so-called 'cults'." 10|
||1999-DEC-17: A news release by the Foundation for Religious
Freedom states that "On December 16, the French Senate, the
upper house of the French legislative system, voted on a law proposal from
Senator Nicolas About which provides a means to dissolve groups which 'cause
trouble to public order." The bill is not yet law but has passed its
first major legislative hurdle...It is entitled 'Law proposal to reinforce
the penal measures against associations or groups which, through their
illegal acts, constitute a trouble to public order or a major threat to the
human being or the security of the State.' The bill originally stated
'groups with a sectarian character' but the words 'with a sectarian
character' were removed. In theory, therefore, the bill could apply to
any group, though its real intent to target 'sects' was clear during the
debate in the Senate." ("Sects" in French is equivalent
to "cults" in English.) "It gives power to the President of
the Republic to issue, after discussion with his Cabinet, a decree of
dissolution against any group which:|
A) has been condemned, as a group, by a court of law twice;
B) whose leaders have been condemned by a court of law twice for certain
types of offenses and constitute a threat to public order or a major threat
to human beings." 13
||2000-JUN-15: According to ReligionToday: The federal government
has approved a law which allows individuals to sue
"marginal religious groups" who practice "mental
manipulation." The law, entitled Human Rights and Public
Liberties, is considerably more draconian than the
law passed in 1999-DEC in the Senate. It has the
potential to impoverish religious groups by endlessly tying them up in litigation
-- at least until a court decides that the law is unconstitutional. 14|
||2000-JUN-22: The bill approved by the federal government on
JUN-15 passed the National Assembly
unanimously on JUN-22. It will be voted upon by the Senate in the Fall of
2000. The Explanatory Memorandum to the bill, states that the
purpose of the bill "is to paralyze" the activities of
new organizations with a "sect-like character". The
legislation is based on the belief that new religious groups create a
state of mental dependence in their members, and infringe on "human
rights and fundamental liberties." The law is very vaguely
worded and uses many ambiguous terms that it does not define. Any local
mayor or chief of police can deny a group a permit to open a religious
house of worship. Any literature that is regarded as
"propaganda" can bring criminal penalties. It introduces a new
term: mental manipulation which includes any activity "with the
goal or the effect to create or to exploit the state of mental or
physical dependence of people who are participating in the group's
activities and to infringe human rights and fundamental liberties; to
exert repeated pressure in order to create or exploit this state of
dependence and to drive the person, against his will or not, to an act
or an abstention with is heavily prejudicial." This provision
of the law could be used to charge the Roman Catholic church for its
teachings on abortion, birth control or co-habiting. This need for this law seems to
be built upon hype and public fears; it is unsupported by any valid
"The law would create the offense of 'mental manipulation,' and
give the state power to dissolve religious groups and imprison and fine
members found to be 'creating a state of mental or physical dependence'
among participants." 15
A group found guilty of "mental manipulation" would be
prohibited from setting up churches or offices within 200 meters of a
school, hospital, nursing home or retirement home. This would
effectively ban any such group from the inner cities.
Under the law, the state could disband a religious organization if two
representatives of the group were found guilty of one or more legal
infractions. "The law would also make the group liable for civil
penalties, restrict its right to advertise or proselytize, curtail the
travel freedom of group leaders, and prohibit the groups from owning
property, holding services or reincorporating themselves under another
||2000-JUL: A number of religious denominations and civil rights
associations expressed concern about the new anti-sect law.
||Bruce Casino, president of the International Coalition for
Religious Freedom, notes that the legislation might be applied
to religious groups of any size, whether new or established.
"It would, by its terms, give enormous discretion to French
prosecutors and civil litigants to go after religious organizations,
political parties, trade unions and other groups that call for
contributions or volunteer efforts from members."
||John Graz, the Secretary General of the International Religious
Liberty Association and a Seventh Day Adventist, said "The
real target of this law is religion in general. It's naive to think
that only the listed groups are in danger."
||Pope John Paul II alluded to the proposed law when meeting with
the French ambassador to the Vatican. He said that: "religious
liberty, in the full sense of the term, is the first human right ...
To discriminate religious beliefs, or to discredit one or another
form of religious practice, is a form of exclusion contrary to the
respect of fundamental human values and will eventually destabilize
society, where a certain pluralism of thought and action should
||Heber Jentzsch, president of the International Church of
Scientology, noted that individual Scientologists have been
arrested and interrogated throughout France. Businesses operated by
Scientologists have been forced into bankruptcy after being "outed"
in the local press. 16
||Rev N J L'Heureux, religious liberty moderator of the National
Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. said that "Overly
aggressive evangelical preaching could be interpreted by some as
||Etienne Lhermenault, general secretary of the Federation of
Evangelical Baptist Churches (FEBC) said that the situation in
France "has been made infinitely more complicated by the
vast ignorance of the French as far as religion is concerned and the
resulting fear of all that is not firmly rooted in society."
He also blames the media for their "confusing
generalizations and by the mediocre level of their information on
Protestantism and the evangelical churches." 17
||2001-JUN-12: Anti-cult bill awaits president's signature:
Although the anti-cult movement has been largely discredited in North
America, it is quite powerful in France. According to the Globe and Mail:
"France is moving forward with Europe's severest legislation against
minority religious groups, igniting fears among civil-liberties
organizations that it could invite similar measures by other governments.
Ignoring criticism from mainstream church leaders and foreign governments,
especially Washington, France's National Assembly has passed a law 'to
reinforce the prevention and repression of groups of a sect-like
character.' " Joseph Grieboski, president of the Washington-based
Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said: "This law makes the
practice of one's religion into a criminal offence." The daily French
newspaper, Le Figaro, mentioned that the lifestyle of a Carmelite nun
could fall afoul of the legislation.|
The bill will create a new type crime covering the abuse of a person "in
a state of psychological or physical dependence caused by the exertion of
heavy or repeated pressure or techniques liable to alter his judgment."
The bill also empowers courts to dissolve religious groups if two leading
members are convicted of crimes such as fraud and child abuse.
Depending on how this clause is interpreted, it could criminalize
catechism classes run by established religions. It could also threaten the
existence of faith groups -- large and small.
||2001-JUL-9: Republican congressman condemns new law against
sects: Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the House sub-committee on
international operations and human rights, engaged in what he called
contentious, argumentative talks with the bill's co-author Catherine
Picard. He believes that its wording is so vague that it could in theory
be applied to almost any cult or religion, including the
Roman Catholic Church. He said: "This (law) is sowing the
seeds for profound religious intolerance in France. If and when it is
exported, it will spread an anti-religious contagion." He added: "When
I read the plain body of the language, you can take virtually any
denomination and in a variety of situations you can dissolve it. You name
it, the Catholic Church, you can dissolve it.'' Justice Minister
Marylise Lebranchu said that the lawmakers' intention was to protect the
weak and that the law would not limit freedom of conscience or worship.
|| 2002-NOV-29 Government anti-cult group
reorganized: The Governmental Mission to Fight Cults has
been renamed the Governmental Mission to Watch and Fight Cultic
Deviances. Mr. Jean-Louis Langlais, a French civil servant with
experience in youth and anti drug work, has been appointed as its
president. A "consultative committee" is to be selected to evaluate
the Mission's work and consider its orientation. It will probably be
composed primarily of persons committed to the anti-cult movement, but may
include other experts as well. The anti-cult movement called for former MP
and anti-cultist Catherine Picard to head the Mission. The appointment of
a civil servant, and the change of name, may indicate that the government
is lowering the profile of the Mission.
||2002: Council of Europe
criticizes About-Picard law: The Council of Europe passed a
resolution critical of this law and invited the Government of France to
reconsider it. As of the end of 2003, the authority under the law for
the government to disband religious groups had never been applied. 20|
Anonymous article, "Religious Groups Face French 'Blacklist'", Action
Magazine, The Rutherford Institute, Charlottesville VA, Vol. 2, No. 5, 1997-MAY
Judah B. Schroeder, "Representatives from 15 European Union countries decry
discrimination against Jehovah's Witnesses in France: Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and the
United States join efforts to visit embassies," Watch Tower Public Affairs
Mark Kellner, "Then They Came for Me," Column in The Washington
Times; exact date unknown
Associated Press, "Jehovah’s Witnesses would be the object of a tax
"Jehovah's witnesses pay a price for lack of cult status," The
Independent (London UK), 1998-JUL-9. News section, Page 13.
News Release, "France: New Dramatic Developments in the Sect Issue,"
Human Rights Without Frontiers, Brussels, Belgium, 1998-JUL-7
Free Minds, "France Moves to Tax Religion!" advertisement in the New
York Times, 1998-JUL-5. See: http://www.freeminds.org/news/nytimes.htm
"Establishing an Inter-ministerial Mission to Fight Against Sects,"
(English translation) at: http://www.cesnur.org/decree98.htm
Quoted in Martin Weightman, "Religious Hysteria in France," European
Human Rights Office, Church of Scientology, 1998-NOV-17.
"Religious Intolerance and Discrimination," speech delivered by Human
Rights Without Frontiers to the OSCE Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, 1998-OCT-28. See: http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/english/pressrelease/hrwf28-10-98.html
"Report of the Inquiry Commission into New Religious Groups,"
1995-DEC-22 at: http://www.assemblee-nat.fr/2/cenq/rap-enq/2cca.htm
This is the original document; in French. An English translation is available at: http://cftf.com/french/Les_Sectes_en_France/cults.html
"1997 Annual Report of the Inter-ministery Observatory on Cults" is
(original document; in French)
"France: New discriminatory law proposal," Foundation
for Religious Freedom news release, 1999-DEC-17.
- ReligionToday news summary for 2000-JUN-15
"Rights groups fear French cult bill would curb religious liberty,"
Newsroom, 2000-JUL-5. Online at: http://www.cesnur.org/testi/fr2K_july1.htm
"French 'Cults law' draws fire from religious groups,"
CNSNews.com, 2000-JUL-14, at: http://www.cesnur.org/testi/fr2K_july2.htm
"French Baptists concerned about religious freedom,"
Evangelical Press News Service. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00b/20000817e.htm
Paul Holmes, "Congressman assails French law on sects," Reuters,
"Jean-Louis Langlais is the new President of the French Mission,"
Center for Studies of New Religions (CESNUR) at:
"France: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," U.S. State
Department (2003) at:
Copyright © 1996 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on
Essay created: 1996-SEP-27
Latest update: 2004-OCT-24
Author: B.A. Robinson