"French court fines Church of Scientology over data violation, acquits
church of attempted fraud and false advertising"
by Verena Von Derschau (AP, May 17, 2002)
PARIS - A French court on Friday fined the Paris branch of the Church of
Scientology for a data protection violation but acquitted the church of
attempted fraud and false advertising in connection with its efforts to
recruit and keep members.
The court fined the church 8,000 euros (about dlrs 7,300), while
imposing a 2,000-euro fine (dlrs 1,824) on Marc Walter, the president of
the Ile de France section that includes Paris.
The court also declined to impose the harshest penalty sought by
prosecutors - an order to disband the church's Paris branch.
The church said it would appeal the ruling, saying that it violated the
European Convention on Human Rights.
"The decision is an attempt to apply commercial law to prohibit
religious expression. It is an intolerable interference by the state
with the religious freedom won from 2000 years of history in Europe,"
said Leisa Goodman, human rights director for the Los Angeles-based
The conviction stemmed from a complaint by a former member who said he
was bombarded with publicity materials even though he wished to end his
France has long had a contentious relationship with the church, and the
trial marked the first time the organization itself was being taken to
court. Several of the group's leaders in France have faced separate
Scientologists have likened the trial, which began in February, to a
witch hunt and say their faith is a religion like any other. The church
has 40,000 members in France, including 20,000 in Paris.
The Church of Scientology has sought recognition as a religion in
Europe, but many Europeans are skeptical. In France, it figures on a
list of nearly 200 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activities.
France has been increasingly inhospitable to groups that it calls sects.
Last year it adopted a law that increases the country's judicial arsenal
against sects as part of a larger crackdown.
The Church of Scientology, which counts actors Tom Cruise and John
Travolta among its members, was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard. It
teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems