In a move that has religionists and civil liberties groups up in arms, France has moved, arbitrarily, to enact legislation repressing religious freedom in that country.
Thumbing its nose to outcries from the U.S. and other foreign governments as well as mainstream church leaders, the French government has raised a bill before its senate which is designed “to reinforce the prevention and repression of groups of a ‘sect-like character’” (Globe and Mail, June 12).
Joseph Grieboski, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy, declared, “This law makes the practice of one’s religion into a criminal offense.”
The bill, if passed, would enable the courts to dissolve officially designated cults under certain conditions. In addition, it would create a new category of crime: abuse of a person “in a state of psychological or physical dependence caused by the exertion of heavy or repeated pressure or techniques liable to alter his judgment.” One caught engaging in behavior considered to match that description faces a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
One of the problems foreseen by legal analysts is that the legislation is far too vague in its definitions. Key terms such as “sect,” “dependence” and “pressure” are simply left undefined.
As Adrian Hilton, noted author of The Principality and Power of Europe, has stated, “Evangelical Christians are perceived by the EU as a ‘sect,’ and…any group which does not belong to the majority church (Roman Catholic) is viewed by many meps with suspicion. This classification is nothing new. The early Church was branded an heretical sect, and this was the earliest basis of persecution” (p. 104).
There is now real concern that the French legislation will cause a domino effect within the EU. Austria, Germany, Belgium and some Eastern European countries have already officially identified “sects” (many headquartered in the U.S.) for close monitoring.