Scientology returning to court
November 2, 2011
PARIS (AP) - The Church of Scientology will again be facing justice on Thursday. New hearings will begin at the Paris court of appeal regarding the "organized fraud" conviction against the French branch of this organization that is considered a cult by French authorities. Six of the movement's officials and the SEL Scientology bookstore will also appear at the trial, which is scheduled to last until December 1.
On October 27, 2009, the Paris correctional court imposed a fine of 400,000 euros on the "Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology - Celebrity Centre" and of 200,000 euros on the bookstore for "organized fraud".
Four members of the Church of Scientology who were convicted of the same charge received suspended prison sentences ranging from 10 to 24 months - the longest going to Alain Rosenberg, who is considered one of the movement's leaders in France. Two other members were fined 1,000 and 2,000 euros for "complicity in the illegal practice of pharmacy".
For this new trial, defense lawyers will use various tactics to seek the repeal of the entire first trial decision and to gain acquittal. Certain parties may raise priority issues of constitutionality.
The lawyers will argue that the first decision undermines freedom of religion and freedom of association. "Scientology's fault is that it is religion that was born in the twentieth century," said one of the defense lawyers, Michel de Guillenchmidt, in an interview with Associated Press. In his view, "The court failed to understand freedom of conscience and freedom of religion."
Eight defendants - six individuals and two legal entities, will be retried. The appeal court will examine the methods and practices of both organizations, in particular the sale of a device that is supposed to "measure changes in a person's mental state and allow a practitioner to draw conclusions about the individual's personality." This "E-meter" is sold to followers for 4,800 euros.
The case began when a former follower filed a formal civil complaint in December 1998. In May 1998, she was accosted by Scientologists at the exit of a subway station. The association first offered her a personality test and an appointment to interpret the results.
Over time, the complainant spent 140,000 French Francs (21,340 euros) for books, a communication course, a "life repair", and "purification packs". To pay for this, she had to take out loans and empty her bank accounts. When she demanded the refund of these sums, the association refused and proposed instead that she sign a protocol, but she declined. According to the defense, these sums have since then been reimbursed to this complainant.
It was learned from a judicial source that, at the appeal trial, the complainant is expected to withdraw as a plaintiff. However, the defense is on edge because the UNADFI ("National Union of Associations for the Defense of Families and the Individual") will again be present, even though its request to join the plaintiffs was turned down at the first trial. Scientology's lawyers also intend to submit arguments to have UNADFI declared inadmissible.
Another plaintiff is the National Order of Pharmacists, which opposes the sale of vitamins by the association and had filed a complaint for "illegal practice of pharmacy".
At the end of the first trial, the prosecution requested the dissolution of the church and of the bookstore, but this penalty was abolished in May 2009 because of a reform to simplify the law. It has since been restored, but it can only apply to offenses committed after the restoration. On account of the dissolution requests, Scientology has initiated civil litigation against the government for 900,000 euros.
Considered a religion in the United States, Spain and Sweden, the movement founded in 1954 by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard has been classified as a cult in France since 1995.