The Cour de Cassation in Paris, France’s highest appeals court, dealt another legal blow to the Church of Scientology in upholding the convictions for “organized fraud” by church officials. The court rejected claims of religious freedom by Scientologist lawyers and found that the Church was engaged in fraudulent practices that led to the convictions and $812,000 in fines. Specifically mentioned in the allegations were the Church’s Celebrity Center and a Scientology bookshop in Paris. The court also upheld the convictions of Scientology’s leader in Paris, Alain Rosenburg, and the Celebrity Centre’s former president Sabine Jacquart for taking financial advantage of elderly members of the Church. They were sentenced to two-year suspended prison sentences as well as being handed €30,000 fines for organized fraud.
Scientology has now lost on every level of the French court system. However, the church will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in arguing that the ruling is a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The Church is arguing that it is impossible to distinguish between religions on the basis for fraud since they all promise spiritual rewards to the faithful. Critics say that Scientology is a well-organized fraudulent enterprise where followers face increasing financial demands or payments to achieve higher levels of faith. The Church has been accused of suicides in France connected to demands for money or other practices. It could be an interesting challenge that raises an issue often discussed on this blog of how to draw the line between religious aspirations and fraudulent promises.
After all, the Washington Post reported that the Catholic Church was offering a modern equivalent of indulgences for loyal Twitter users who could reduce their time in purgatory. Putting aside the annoying tweets of “OMG Made Heaven HT Pope ZOMG BFN.” Of course, there is not thousands of dollars being exchanged for such alleged indulgences (well, not currently as opposed to cash exchanges during medieval times) but the point is that most churches make assurances of ultimate rewards in exchange for acts of faithfulness. That is why a decision of the European Court of Human Rights could be quite historic if it tries to draw a line or declares that no such lines are possible in matters of faith.
What do you think?