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The French National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of France, set up a Parliamentary Commission on Cults in France (French: Commission parlementaire sur les sectes en France) on 11 July 1995 following the events involving the members of the Order of the Solar Temple in late 1994 in the French region of Vercors, in Switzerland and in Canada. Chaired by deputy Alain Gest, a member of the Union for French Democracy conservative party, the commission had to determine what should constitute a cult. It came to categorize various groups according to their supposed threat or innocuity (towards members of the groups themselves or towards society and the state). The Commission reported back in December 1995.
Some non-French citizens and certain organizations, including the Church of Scientology and the United States Department of State, criticized its categorization-methodology. The Parliamentary Commission always bore in mind the difficulties of establishing any objective classification, although it never called into question the actual ethical and political imperatives of doing so, especially in the wake of the Order of the Solar Temple "mass suicides" and other dangerous cult activities occurring around the world (such as, for example, the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo's subway by the Aum Shinrikyo group). The Commission held various hearings with persons involved in new religious movement (NRM) activities or involved in anti-cult movements, and had the French secret service Renseignements Généraux give it lists of NRM activities and memberships. (For a list of the groups (with name-translations) included in the 1995 report, see Governmental lists of cults and sects)
Subsequent French Parliamentary Commissions on cults reported in 1999 and in 2006.
In a 2005 circulaire which stressed ongoing vigilance concerning cults, the Prime Minister of France suggested that due to changes in cult behavior and organization, the list of specific cults (which formed a part of the 1995 report) had become less pertinent. The Prime Minister asked his civil servants in certain cases to avoid depending on generic lists of cult groups but instead to apply criteria set in consultation with the Interministerial Commission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances (MIVILUDES).
The first Parliamentary Commission on Cults in France was created in 1995, but the cults had long been watched by the Direction centrale des renseignements généraux. A report had already been done on this issue in 1983 by Alain Vivien, on a request by the prime minister.
The 1995 Commission attempted to measure the magnitude of the cult phenomenon at that time and compiled a list of 173 cults which met at least one of the ten criteria of dangerousness defined by the Direction centrale des renseignements généraux. However, it was not a definitive or exhaustive list. The day after the publication of the report, namely on 23 December 1995, the bodies of 16 victims of "collective suicide" of the Solar Temple were found, which contributed in giving to the report a particular resonance, although it did not mention the Ordre of the Solar Temple in its list.
Following this report, an Observatoire interministériel sur les sectes was established in 1996, then in 1998, the government developed a new inter-ministerial organization, the Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sectes (MILS), which was later replaced by the MIVILUDES. It therefore published its own studies, which are frequently confused with the parliamentary reports.
The second Parliamentary Commission on cults published its second report in 1999, and is commonly known as "parliamentary report on cults and money". It was intended to make an inventory of financial, inheritance and tax situation of cults, their economic activities and their relationships with the business community.
In 2001, the About-Picard law strengthened legislation against cults.
In 2006, the National Assembly of France decided to create a new parliamentary commission about the influence of cults and the consequences of their practices on the physical and mental health of minors.
Commission of 1995
Its report was unanimously adopted on 20 December 1995 by the 7 deputies who were present (out of 21; the other members had not received their notification because of a postal service strike). Jean-Pierre Brard, vice-chairman of the commission, considered that the propositions were "insufficient" and wanted to adopt a "special legislation" to effectively fight against dangerous cults. He said: "This vote is thus not representative of the whole commission. If I had been present, I would have abstained." The rules of the National Assembly say the report is still valid regardless of the number present.
Definition of "cult"
The report says: "Twenty hearings were conducted in these conditions, for a total of twenty-one hours. They have allowed the Commission to take note of information, experience and analysis of people having, for various reasons, a thorough knowledge of the cult phenomenon, whether administrators, doctors, lawyers, clergymen, representatives of organizations that assist victims of cults, and of course, former members of cults and leaders of cultic associations. The Commission has also requested assistance from various agencies in an attempt to refine the best knowledge of the scope of his study." The Minister of the Interior was the most important source of information.
Given the difficulty of defining the concept of cult, the Commission decided to resume the criteria followed by the Direction centrale des renseignements généraux, which it considers as "a body of evidence, each of which could lead to lengthy discussions."
- Threats to people:
- mental destabilization;
- exaggerated financial demands;
- separation from one's home environment;
- damage to physical integrity;
- indoctrination of children;
- Threats to the community:
- more or less anti-social speech;
- public disorder;
- importance of judicial involvements;
- possible diversion of traditional economic circuits;
- attempts to infiltration of public powers.
The Commission believes that it "was aware that neither the novelty nor the small number of followers, or even eccentricity could be retained as criteria" and explains: "The scope of its study has been voluntarily restricted to a certain number of associations gathering, usually around a spiritual leader, people sharing the same belief in a being or a number of transcendental ideas, situated or not at odds with "traditional" religions (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist) which were excluded from this study, and on which have, at one time or another, been suspected of any activity contrary to public policy or individual freedoms."
Mindful not to give a result exactly impartial, the Commission nevertheless chose these criteria to conduct a partial analysis of reality, holding the common sense that the public ascribes to the notion of cult.
The published report of the Parliamentary Commission of 1995 (also known as the Rapport Gest-Guyard), appeared on 22 December 1995.
Controversies on the criteria and sources
The criteria chosen by the Renseignements généraux (RG) to establish the dangerousness of a movement were criticized, because they are considered as vague and may include many organizations, religious or not.
One of the first criticism came from Bishop Jean Vernette, the national secretary of the French episcopate to the study of cults and new religious movements, which stressed that these criteria can be applied to almost all religions. Moreover, sociologists like Bruno Étienne emphasized that the mental manipulation should not be defined by the policemen of the Renseignements généraux. The list of cults was based on the criteria defined by the RG, but without specifying which of their practices are specifically criticized.
In addition, the secrecy of the work made by the RG led to questions about the presence or absence of certain organizations in the list. Étienne questioned on the presence of the CEDIPAC SA company, formerly known as European Grouping of Marketing Professionals (GEPM), while its activity is not in the religious field. The absence of Opus Dei or the Freemasons also raised questions.
In addition, Yves Bertrand, General Director of the Renseignements généraux from 1992 to 2003, spoke in 2007 about his collaborative work with the parliamentary reports on cults, and believed that Scientology and Jehovah's Witnesses do not deserve to be diabolized and "to put on the same level some companies of thought and genuine cultic movements that alienate the freedom of their members, the result is the opposite of the desired goals".
Controversies on the file's content
Some movements have sought access to documents that led to their classification onto the list of cults by the parliamentary commission. The government refused, invoking the risk to public safety and security of the State in case of disclosure of information from Renseignements généraux. Several movements engaged in legal proceedings that lasted several years before they can access these secret documents. Jehovah's Witnesses finally succeeded in 2006, after the request was filed to the Council of State. The first judgments on this issue were given in 2005 by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Paris after examining the documents to assess the merits of the refusal of the Ministry of Interior, who mentioned the risk to public safety. On 3 July 2006, the Council of State rejected the appeal of the Minister of Interior and confirmed the same day the annulment of the decision of the Minister of Interior who refused to provide to the Christian Federation of Jehovah's Witnesses the documents made by the Renseignements généraux for the second report. On 18 December 2006, at a press conference in Paris, Jehovah's Witnesses released the files prepared by the Renseignements généraux for the commission on cults in 1995. According to Le Monde, this work, "which was released after eight years of proceedings, only includes a form of presentation and a list their places of worship."
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God also obtained the right of access to the file made by the Renseignements Généraux which justified its classification as cults in the parliamentary report. In a decision of 1 December 2005 validated by the Council of State, the Administrative Court of Appeal in Paris overturned the refusal of the Minister of Interior to grant the request of the association and ordered the files release.
Lack of opposing debate
The parliamentary report was strongly criticized by U.S. officials. In 1999, a report on religious freedom around the world conducted by the State Department accused it of not having heard from the groups accused and the lack of opposing debate.
The French branch of Tradition, Family Property complained about the impossibility of rectifying the report, saying: "The list established in the Report (…) contained similar unfair qualifications to certain groups falsely pinned as cults, with all appalling consequences for their members and their activities, the list being widely published in the media. But none of them had been heard. No one could get any rehabilitation or a new decision because no authority is recognized qualified to take over the case. The thing is serious in a State of law and there is concern that it may renew itself by other means."[attribution needed]
Raffarin's circulaire, 2005
On 27 May 2005 (just before he left office), the then Prime Minister of France, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, issued a circulaire which stressed that the government must exercise vigilance in taking account of the evolution of the cult-phenomenon, which, he wrote, made the list of movements attached to the Parliamentary Report of 1995 less and less pertinent, based on the observation that small groups form in a scattered, more mobile and less-easily identifiable manner, making use in particular of the possibilities of spreading offered by the Internet.
The Prime Minister asked his civil servants to update a number of instructions issued previously, to apply criteria set in consultation with the Interministerial Commission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances (MIVILUDES), and to avoid falling back on lists of groups for the identification of cultic deviances.
Commission of 1999
A further French parliamentary commission reported in 1999 on cults in connection with money and the economy. Several groups previously omitted in the 1995 report were added (Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, Anthroposophy, At the Heart of the Communication, Prima Verba, Energo-Chromo-Kinese). The report said that the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Scientology were the richest "cults", whose annual budget reached respectively 200,000,000 and 60,000,000 FF (30,500,000 and 9,147,000€ respectively). Sōka Gakkai, Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, Sukyo Mahikari, New Apostolic Church, Unification Church, Dianova, Association of the Triumphant Vajra (Mandarom) and Anthroposophy had an annual income between 20,000,000 and 50,000,000 FF (approximately between 3,000,000€ and 7,600,000€).
Controversy about Anthroposophy
The publication of this report provoked strong reactions; however, the Union des associations médicales anthroposophiques de France, the Société financière de la NEF and the Fédération des Écoles Steiner, owned by Anthroposophy, attempted legal action. After presenting the report on France 2, a complaint for defamation was filed against the president of the parliamentary commission Jacques Guyard. The Tribunal de grande instance de Paris said that Guyard was "unable to justify of a serious investigation" to support his allegations, that he "repeatedly referred to "secret" nature of the work of the commission", and that "the contradictory nature of the investigation conducted just consisted of sending a questionnaire to sixty movements considered as cultic". In addition, "the judges felt that the injury of plaintiffs was important (…) since the defamatory statements were made by a deputy president of the commission, whose authority and competence could not have been doubted by the public". In September 2001, the Cour d'Appel de Paris maintained this conclusion but Guyard obtained his discharge on the ground of good faith.
Third-party comments, 2000
The 2000 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the U.S. Department of State, stated:
The ensuing publicity [by the release of a parliamentary report against "sectes" contributed to an atmosphere of intolerance and bias against minority religions. Some religious groups reported that their members suffered increased intolerance after having been identified on the list.[attribution needed]
Third-party comments, 2004
In its 2004 annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated:
[...] official government initiatives and activities that targets "sects" or "cults" have fueled an atmosphere of intolerance toward members of minority religions in France. [...] These initiatives [the publication of reports characterizing specific groups as dangerous and the creating of agencies to monitor and fight these groups] are particularly troubling because they are serving as models for countries in Eastern Europe where the rule of law and other human rights are much weaker than in France.[attribution needed]
The 2004 report concluded with an assessment that the restructuring of the main French agency concerned with this issue (referring to the new MIVILUDES replacing its predecessor, the Mission Interministérielle pour la Lutte contre les Sectes [Interministerial Commission to Combat the Cults] (MILS), had reportedly improved religious freedoms in France.
Commission of 2006
In a press-release dated 28 June 2006, several deputies from the Socialist Party, from the UDF, and others, stated that "certain people had believed that they could celebrate a so-called turning-point in the French policy of defending individual and collective liberties against the dangerous conduct of cults and a renewed questioning of the parliamentary reports of 1995 and 1999, as a result of the appearance of the Prime Minister's circulaire". The spokespersons said that the issue addressed by the Prime Minister related to the data collected in 1995 and 1999 becoming stale. They added that setting up a new Commission of Enquiry would permit a "coming to grips with a new state-of-play in the cultic movement".
On 28 June 2006, in response to a unanimous resolution of the Law Commission (commission des lois), the French National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to set up a Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry into the influence of cultic movements and the consequences of their practices on the physical and mental health of minors. The 30 members of the Commission included Georges Fenech (President), Philippe Vuilque (rapporteur), Martine David and Alain Gest (Vice-Presidents) and Jean-Pierre Brard and Rudy Salles (Secretaries).
The Commission presented its report to the Assembly on 19 December 2006. The report contained 50 recommendations which aimed to protect endangered children. George Fenech accused public officials (and especially the bureau des cultes of the Ministry of the Interior), of "negligence, even complaisance". He expressed his astonishment at the lack of a good definition of the profession of psychotherapeutics, which he described as a "mine for cults" where gurus flourish.
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- "Proposition de résolution tendant à la création d'une commission d'enquête sur les dérives sectaires, notamment dans le domaine médical et paramédical, présentée par M. Jacques MYARD" (in French). Assemblée Nationale. Archived from the original on 20 April 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
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- Bruno Étienne, Les sectes en France, Hachette littératures, 2002, page 213
- The New Heretics of France: Minority Religions, la Republique, and the Government-Sponsored "War on Sects" Susan J. Palmer 2011
- Bruno Étienne, Les sectes en France, Hachette littératures, 2002, page 224
- Bruno Étienne, Les sectes en France, Hachette littératures, 2002, page 182
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- Yves Bertrand. "Quand le directeur des RG revient sur le rapport parlementaire". Je ne sais rien mais je dirai (presque) tout (in French). Sectes.eu. Archived from the original on 21 October 2008. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
- Cour administrative d'appel de Paris (16 June 2005). "Détail d'une jurisprudence administrative" (in French). Legifrance. Archived from the original on 22 September 2008. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
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- Le Monde, 20 December 2006, p. 14; Le Figaro, 19 December 2006, p. 12
- Aloys Evina (15 December 2006). "L'Église de Scientologie : secte ou religion-business". Journal chrétien (in French). Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2009.
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- Nathalie Luca, Les sectes, Que sais-je, p. 102
- "Circulaire du 27 mai 2005 relative à la lutte contre les dérives sectaires | Legifrance". Archived from the original on 28 June 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
- Circulaire du 27 mai 2005 relative à la lutte contre les dérives sectaires Archived 2021-06-09 at the Wayback Machine (Circulaire of 27 May 2005 concerning the struggle against cultic manifestations). The Prime Minister wrote:
Cette vigilance doit s'exercer en tenant compte de l'évolution du phénomène sectaire, qui rend la liste de mouvements annexée au rapport parlementaire de 1995 de moins en moins pertinente. On constate en effet la formation de petites structures, diffuses, mouvantes et moins aisément identifiables, qui tirent en particulier parti des possibilités de diffusion offertes par l'internet. [Translation: We must exercise this vigilance in taking account of the evolution of the cult-phenomenon, which makes the list of movements attached to the Parliamentary Report of 1995 less and less pertinent. Indeed, one can observe the formation of small groups, scattered, mobile and less-easily identifiable, and which make use in particular of the possibilities of spreading offered by the Internet.].
[U]n certain nombre d'instructions ministérielles données par vos prédécesseurs doivent être actualisées en fonction des orientations définies par la présente circulaire. Je vous demande de procéder à cet examen en lien avec la MIVILUDES. En tout état de cause, les références aux organismes comme l'Observatoire des sectes ou la Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sectes (MILS) devront être remplacées par des références au décret instituant la MIVILUDES, et le recours à des listes de groupements sera évité au profit de l'utilisation de faisceaux de critères. Je vous demande de procéder à cette mise à jour au plus tard pour le 31 décembre 2005. [Translation: A certain number of ministerial instructions issued by your predecessors should be brought up-to-date in the light of the approaches defined in the current circulaire. I ask you to carry out this scrutiny in consultation with MIVILUDES. In each case of justification, references to bodies such as the Cult Monitor or to the Interministerial Commission for Struggle against Cults (MILS) should be replaced with references to the decree setting up MIVILUDES, and falling back on lists of groups should be avoided in favor of using bands of criteria. I ask that you perform this update by 31 December 2005 at the latest.]
- "Jacques Guyard condamné pour avoir qualifié le mouvement anthroposophe de secte", Le Monde, 23 March 2000
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- A cette occasion, certains ont cru pouvoir se réjouir d'un soi-disant tournant dans la politique française de défense des libertés individuelles et collectives contre les menées dangereuses des sectes et d'une remise en cause des rapports parlementaires de 1995 et en 1999. – "La République, c'est la liberté, de penser et de croire", press-release of 28 June 2006. http://www.depute-brard.org/documents/1315-005.doc[permanent dead link] Page 1. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
- En réalité, la question posée par le Premier ministre était celle du vieillissement des informations collectées en 1995 et 1999. – "La République, c'est la liberté, de penser et de croire", press-release of 28 June 2006. http://www.depute-brard.org/documents/1315-005.doc[permanent dead link] Page 1. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
- A cette occasion le vœu formulé par le groupe d'études sur les sectes donne écho aux propositions de commissions d'enquête déposées par les députés de la majorité comme de l'opposition depuis le début de la législature ... L’adoption de la proposition de résolution, à l'unanimité par la Commission puis aujourd’hui, en séance publique confirme l'engagement commun des membres de l'Assemblée, au-delà des clivages partisans, pour engager un nouvel état des lieux de la mouvance sectaire tout particulièrement dans le domaine de la santé et de la protection des mineurs. Translation: "On this occasion the wish formulated by the study-group on cults echoes the proposals for commissions of enquiry submitted by Members of Parliament both from the governing majority and from the Opposition since the beginning of the legislative term ... The adoption of this resolution — unanimously by the Commission, and then, today, in a public session — underlines the common commitment of the Members of the Assembly, transcending partisan divides, to address a new state-of-play in the cultic movement, and in particular in the area[s] of health and of the protection of minors." — Press-release of 28 June 2006. http://www.depute-brard.org/documents/1315-005.doc[permanent dead link] Page 1. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
- "M. Fenech s'étonne aussi de voir que la profession de psychothérapeute ne soit pas mieux définie alors que c'est "une mine pour les sectes" dans laquelle prospèrent les gourous, a-t-il ajouté en substance." — Agence France-Presse bulletin dated 19 December 2006, online at http://associations.societegenerale.fr/EIA--Sectes___Fenech__UMP__accuse_les_pouvoirs_publics_de__negligence_-sv-asso-rq-afp-actu-9232.html Archived 2007-10-20 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 2007-05-07