Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Earlier today, a French court convicted the French branch of the Church of Scientology of fraud and fined the organization almost $900,000. However, the court stopped short of granting the prosecution's demand to ban the church entirely. The church said it would appeal.
The verdict was among the most important in several years to involve the group, which is registered as a religion in the United States but has no similar legal protection in France where it is considered a sect. Today's court decision marks the first time that the church itself -- and not individual church members -- had been tried and convicted.
According to the New York Times:
The case was brought by two former members who said they were pushed into paying large sums of money in the 1990s, pressed to sign up for expensive “purification courses” and harassed to buy a variety of vitamins and other forms of pharmaceuticals, plus electronic tests to measure spiritual progress. One woman said she had been pressured into spending more than $30,000.
The major fines were rendered against the Scientology Celebrity Center in Paris and a Scientology bookstore. Six group leaders were convicted of fraud, with four given suspended sentences of 10 months to two years. One of them, the group’s leader in France, Alain Rosenberg, was given a two-year suspended sentence and fined $44,700. Two others were given only fines, of $1,490 and $2,980.
Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, applauded the tribunal's decision, saying: “This is an historic decision. It’s the first time in France that the entity of the Church of Scientology is condemned for fraud as an organized gang.” Meanwhile, Agnès Bron, a spokeswoman for the church, called the verdict "an Inquisition for modern times.”
The Church of Scientology is based in Los Angeles. It was founded in 1954 by the writer L. Ron Hubbard. The State Department has in the past criticized Belgium, Germany, and other European countries for labeling Scientology a cult or sect and enacting laws to restrict its operations.