Scientology Facing Murky Future in France
Scientology sued for fraud in France; conviction could lead to banning.
LONDON, Sept. 18, 2008 — -- The Church of Scientology faces trial on deletion fraud charges in Paris, with the possibility that the organization, which claims around 5,000 active members in France in addition to a bevy of Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Cruise, could be banned in France if it loses.
While it enjoys an active presence in the U.S. -- it has been recognized as a religious organization by the I.R.S. since 1993 -- Scientology has faced strong opposition from French authorities.
France has refused to acknowledge Scientology as a religion, and Miviludes, the French government agency in charge of protecting its citizens from sectarian manipulations, has warned French citizens against participating.
"Scientology is a dangerous movement," Milivudes president Jean-Michel Roulet told ABCNews.com. "It puts pressure on its victims, it tries to intimidate them and blackmails them."
Isabelle Montagne, spokesperson with the Paris court of Justice, told ABCNews.com that if Scientology is found guilty of fraud or illegal practice of medical activities, the president of the Paris Scientology Celebrity Centre, one of the biggest centers in France, could be sentenced to seven years in prison and the organization could be forced to close its doors.
Part of the French wariness of Scientology likely stems from a culture that is skeptical of any purported religious organization that requires members to pay money, says Roulet, who says members spend up to $40,000 within their first years in Scientology.
"It is possible for members to pay that amount within a few years," Daniele Gounord, spokesperson for Scientology in France, told ABCNews.com. "It is possible, if a member is willing to progress fast."
"This does not fit with the French mentality," answered Roulet. "At church you are free to give money or not. We are not used to religions in which you have to pay for everything."
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