How far does the principle of religious freedom go? How much can be accepted in the name of respect for a faith? A Paris court is debating these questions in a fraud case against the Church of Scientology. If the public prosecutor wins the case, Scientology will be convicted of extorting hundreds of thousands of euros from followers on personality tests, vitamin cures, “auditing” sessions and counselling with an “e-metre.” It will be disbanded and could also face heavy fines. The French arm of the U.S.-based Scientology denies the charges and says the case violates its freedom of religion.
Scientology is registered as a religion with tax-exempt status in the United States, but enjoys no such position in France and has faced repeated accusations of being a money-making cult. It also does not have French celebrities defending its case, in contrast to the United States. where movie star members such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta publicly defend it as a valid religion. “This is not the place to debate whether Scientology is truly a religion or not,”prosecutor Maud Coujard told the court when she summed up her case on Monday. “The point is that … a religious motivation is no justification under criminal law.”
Scientology’s lawyer, Patrick Maisonneuve, will call for an acquittal when he makes his closing remarks to the court. “What the prosecutor has asked for is a death sentence for Scientology (in France),” he told reporters. The court is expected to issue its ruling later in the year.
Do you think the freedom of religion defence should cover Scientology? Or is it a money-making cult, as the French prosecutor has said?
(Photo: Plaque outside Scientology bookshop in Paris, 19 May 2009/Charles Platiau)