French Court Upholds Verdict of Organized Fraud for Church of Scientology

A "dianetics" center of the Church of Scientology in Marseilles. Photo: Dominique Pipet for flickr.

A “dianetics” center of the Church of Scientology in Marseilles. Photo: Dominique Pipet for flickr.

On October 16, a French court reaffirmed a ruling finding the two main institutions of the Church of Scientology in France, the SEL Bookstore and its Celebrity Center, guilty of organized fraud. Four years after a similar decision, both were charged and will respectively pay €200,000 and €400,000 – more than $270,000 and $540,000.

The Church of Scientology has a long history of involvement in the French Justice system and this decision is the result of a series of trials stemming back several years. In a complex string of judgments, the current judgment, issued by the Court of Cassation, a superior Court of Appeals in France, upholds a 2012 decision by the Court of Appeals of Paris, which itself had confirmed a first judgment dating from 2009 declaring the Church of Scientology guilty of organized fraud.

According to this series of judgments, leading members of the Church of Scientology took advantage of several constituents. The final decision is lenient compared to what the prosecutors had demanded: at least €1 million and €500,000 fines for the two institutions. Eric Roux, representing the French branch of Scientology, declared that this sentence was the result of a constant “judicial harassment” and a violation of religious freedom.

Indeed, many organizations considered religions in the United States are viewed as dangerous cults in France, regularly listed as so, and often the targets of lawsuits. This intensive “active secularism” and fight against cults has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in 2012 declared the French government guilty of discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses by classifying them as a cult.

The Church of Scientology intends to appeal to the ECHR. This ruling is unusual in that it not only targeted specific members of the sect, as has happened before, but the sect itself as a legal person for its practices. The courts have repeatedly responded to the accusation of religious persecution by citing criminal law procedure, and ruled against the Church of Scientology for selling at high cost objects or techniques that could not have the claimed effect.

The fight is not over for either side. Georges Fenech, president of the parliamentary study group on cults, has stated, “If it is convicted of further charges, the Church of Scientology could risk pure and simple dissolution.”

Trackbacks

  1. […] On October 16, a French court reaffirmed a ruling finding the two main institutions of the Church of Scientology in France, the SEL Bookstore and its Celebrity Center, guilty of organized fraud. Four years after a similar decision, both were charged and will respectively pay €200,000 and €400,000 – more than $270,000 and $540,000. According to this series of judgments, leading members of the Church of Scientology took advantage of several constituents. Indeed, many organizations considered religions in the United States are viewed as dangerous cults… […]

  2. […] But the important thing to note is that it wasn’t just cast aside.  The courts are actually entertaining the idea that Mormon leaders are conning their followers.  It’s not unthinkable as countless religious leaders have been exposed as frauds, having more followers shouldn’t lead us to believe that the religious leader is somehow above that (indeed, the historical precedent suggests that megachurch pastors seem more likely to be exposed as con artists).  There is even international precedent for this.  Just last year French courts upheld the verdict of fraud against the Church of Scientology. […]

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