European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

More than 100 NGOs and personalities write to French Parliamentarians about the law on cults

Written the Monday, December 18th 2023 à 11:28

Article read 1554 times

December 17, 2023

All French Deputies
All French Senators
Re: The current French bill on “Reinforcing the Fight Against Cultic Deviances”
Dear Members of the French Parliament,

We write as an informal coalition of organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious and civil society leaders, and human rights advocates and practitioners to express our deep concerns about the bill, “Reinforcing the Fight Against Cultic Deviances,” which is currently being debated at the French Parliament.

While we hold an extremely broad diversity of theological views and political positions, we all agree on the importance of freedom of religion or belief for everyone. It strengthens cultures and provides the foundation for stable democracies and their components, including social harmony, civil society, and economic growth. As such, it is also an effective counter-terrorism weapon as it pre-emptively undermines religious extremism. From Cyrus’ Cylinder to Roger Williams’ 1663 Colonial Charter, history and modern scholarship make it clear that where people are allowed to practice their faith freely, they are less likely to be alienated from the government, and more likely to be good citizens.

While we know France has a duty to enact legislation to tackle the problems of criminality and prosecute crimes committed by members of spiritual and religious movements, we believe you can achieve this purpose without adding new restrictions on freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in your country.

The bill, “Reinforcing the Fight Against Cultic Deviances,” as it is written, contains several flaws that make it non-compliant with the Constitution of the Fifth Republic and its international commitments, including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

First, the stigmatization of religious minorities as “cults” or “cultic groups” by states and governments is contrary to the international standards in freedom of religion or belief. That is what is tackled in General Comment 22 of the UN Human Rights Committee:
Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.

The European Court of Human Rights regularly condemns such stigmatization by its member states (see for example "Tonchev and Others v. Bulgaria", Application no. 56862/15).

Currently, the leading countries that target religious and spiritual minorities they distastefully refer to as “cults” are Russia, China, and Iran. These countries are among the worst violators of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in the world, and we do not want to see France join this group.

Moreover, Article 1 of the law creates a new crime called “psychological subjection.” Such a concept, to be applied to matters related to religious or spiritual beliefs:

●      Is pseudo-scientific and has never been supported by scientific consensus, while to the opposite some scientific recognized groups as the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association rejected utterly such a concept applied to religious movements and/or so called “cults.” As the ECHR stated in "Case of the Jehovah's Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia" (Application no. 302/02), on June 10, 2010: "there is no generally accepted and scientific definition of what constitutes ‘mind control.’"
●      Is so vague that it opens the door to arbitrary abuses, which can touch any faith, or even non-religious philosophical groups.
●      Will put the burden of proof on psychiatrists who will have to evaluate religious or spiritual practices for which they are not qualified, based on a notion devoid of scientific basis.
●      Will criminalize beliefs based on the degree of popularity or acceptance of the ideas and beliefs of minority spiritual or religious groups.
We believe this would be unacceptable in a democratic country like France.

We urge you to consider the repercussions of such a law. The social consequences include but are not limited to outraged protests not only from these minority groups but from multi-faith coalitions and increasing scrutiny of the international community.

Further, Article 3 of the bill will allow “anti-cult” associations to be plaintiff in criminal trials against groups they consider as “cults,” even if they have not personally suffered any damage. Considering that these associations are by definition attacking the spiritual and religious minorities they label as “cults,” this article will endanger the right to a fair trial that everyone is entitled to. 

We understand that fighting against criminality is a legitimate aim. Unfortunately, the bill in its current form will be counter-productive and will allow for the criminalization of people who are not criminals but sincere believers. We are certain that French criminal law contains all necessary provisions to tackle criminality, and creating a vague and arbitrary new crime based on pseudo-scientific theories is dangerous.

As an informal multi-faith coalition, we strongly and respectfully urge you to refrain from rushing to pass this bill into law and ask you to engage the leading experts in the right to freedom of religion or belief, such as the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE or the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religions or Belief, to get well-rounded advice and guidance.

This is a critical issue for the future of France, the fate of all French citizens, and the entire world, as the outcome of your work will be watched and evaluated internationally. Will you enact a law that targets and punishes citizens for their faith or beliefs? Will you stigmatize minority beliefs, create an arbitrary crime, and increase restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, or will you uphold freedom in the country of Human Rights? We definitely hope it will be the latter, and we trust you will hear that call.

Thank you for your consideration.

Aido Network International (AIDO)
Alliance For Democratic Justice – USA
America Sikh Forum Inc.
American Sikh Council
Association of the Hungarian Romani Police Officers
BRIDGES NGO for Dialogue – Bulgaria
Center for defence of human rights - Switzerland
Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion Belief and Conscience (LIREC) – Italy
CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) - Italy
Children’s Education Fellowship – USA
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, Washington DC – USA
Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (CAPLC)
Ethnic Debate Forum / Jewish Muslim Platform - Denmark
European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) – Italy
European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF) – Belgium, France
FALMIS - Association of Banat Bulgarian
Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations North American (FIACONA)
FOREF EUROPE (European Forum for Religious Freedom) – Austria

Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief – Netherlands
Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l
Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) - USA
International Christian Concern – USA      
Law and Liberty Trust – USA
Mission Lanka – Netherlands
ORLIR (International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees)
PARITY (New York)
Peacefully Connected – Belgium
Soteria International
The All Faith Network – UK
Udhetim I lire (Free to Travel) – Albania
Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies (UARR)
The World Uyghur Christian Union (WUCU)
With title and organization for identification purposes only
Dr Abdul Basit Syed
Founder Chairman
World Humanitarian Drive
Dr Adam Klin-Oron
Director, Social Impact
The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
Dr. Adrian Hollaender
Rechtsanwaltskanzlei / Law Office
Rechtsanwalt / Attorney at Law
Vienna, Austria, Europe
Alan Murray
Board member
AFAN (All Faiths And None)
Alessandro Amicarelli
FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
Anastasia Aseeva
Executive Director
Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ)
Angelina Vladikova
Bridges NGO for Dialogue
Arvinder Singh
America Sikh Forum Inc.
Bachittar Singh Ughrha
Founder and President
Center for defence of human rights
Bashy Qurashy
Ethnic Debate Forum / Jewish Muslim Platform
Bernadette Rigal-Cellard
Professeur émérite
Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Prof. Boaz Huss
Aron Bernstein Chair in Jewish History
Chairperson of the Goldstein-Goren International Center of Jewish Thought
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Bryan Nerren
Children’s Education Fellowship
Congressman Dan Burton
International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace
Universal Peace Federation
Ven. Dharmavajra D. Schultze
Buddhist minister
Member of Nätverket för Tro och Tolerans  (network for faith and tolerance) - Sweden
David Perry
Family Federation for World Peace and Unification France
Eileen Barker
FAcSS, FBA, OBE, Professor Emerita
London School of Economics
Enrique Miguel Sánchez Motos
Civil State Administrator
Madrid Spain
Franco Famularo
FFWPU Canada
Dr. Ferenc Horvath
Association of the Hungarian Romani Police Officers
Dr. Habil. Gabor Dániel Nagy
Associate Professor
University of Szeged
IEP de Paris alumnus
Prof. dr. hab. Gabriel Andreescu
Center for International Studies, Bucharest
Gary Van Kennen
New York State Council of Churches (NYSCC) Executive Committee
G. Elaina Fowler
Gerbrig Deinum
Chevelyns Care Foundation          
Gillian Dare, OBE
UK FORB Forum's Working Group on FORB in the EU
Greg Mitchell
Founder & Chair
IRF Secretariat
Pastor Greg Young
Chosen Generation Radio – USA
Hans Noot
Gerard Noodt Foundation
Hubert Thurnhofer
H.E. Irenee Namboka
Retired Human Rights Advisor
United Nations
Prof. Dr. Istvan Szikinger
Constitutional specialist
Attorney at law – Hungary
Jan Figel
European Union former Special Envoy on FoRB
Dr Jasbir Singh Puri
Peace Commissioner
Sikh Community - Ireland
Prof. Dr. Jelle Creemers
ISFORB (Institute for the Study of Freedom of Religion or Belief)
John Redman
Executive Director
Communities in Action
Jonathan K. Ammons
NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Koshy George
Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of North America (FIACONA)
Larry Moffitt
Sec. Gen.
UPF North America
Laslo Trencsenyi
assistant professor
Wesley János Lelkészképző Főiskola, Budapest
Lauren B. Homer
Law and Liberty Trust
Lotfi Amine Hachemi
Peacefully Connected
Prof. Luigi Berzano
Università di Torino
Lyudmila Filipovych
Ukrainian Academy of Sciences
Head of the Department of Philosophy and History of Religion, Institute of Philosophy, NASU
Marco Respinti
Director in charge
Bitter Winter – a daily magazine for religious liberty
Rev. Dr. Marian Edmonds-Allen
Executive Director
Martin Weightman
The All Faith Network UK
Massimo Introvigne
Managing director
CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions)
Dr. Michael Jenkins
The Washington Times Foundation
Miranda Mansaku
Executive Director
Udhetim i Lire
Morgana Sythove
Global Trustee
URI (United Religions Initiative)
Nadine Maenza
IRF Secretariat
Naoufal El Hammoumi
International League of Young Journalists
Activist in freedom of religion in North Africa       
Nasim Malik
General Sec.
IHRC – International Human Rights Committee
Kalmar- Sweden.
Navleen Kaur, MBE
Sikh Faith Minister
Dr Opinderjit Kaur Takhar, MBE
Centre for Sikh and Panjabi Studies (UK)
Patrice J. Pederson
First Freedom Foundation
Patricia Duval
Attorney at law
His Excellency Paul Eganda
Ateker International Development Organisation
Peter Cook
Executive Director
New York State Council of Churches
Peter Zoehrer
Secretary General, Editor in chief
Apostle Dr. Precious Toe
Restored To Ignite Minister
Puneet Ahluwalia
Executive Director
Alliance For Democratic Justice
Raffaella Di Marzio
Psychologist of Religion
Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion Belief and Conscience (LIREC)
Rosita Šorytė
ORLIR (International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees)
Satoshi Nishihata
Bureau Chief
Happy Science Washington Bureau
Scott Morgan
Red Eagle Enterprises
Senge Sering
Gilgit Baltistan Studies – USA
Shantha Dalugamage
Mission Lanka
Sheik Rahman
Wilmbledon Association of Ahmadiyya Moslems
Sheik Ramzy
Oxford Islamic Information Centre
and Imam
Oxford Brooks University
Prof. Silvio Calzolari
Storico delle Religioni
Istituto Superiore di Scienze Religiose
Facoltà Teologica Italia Centrale – Firenze
Simran Stuelpnagel
Global Affairs Advisor
SSSC Trust
Svetlana Karadzhova
Thomas J. Ward
Professor of Peace and Development
HJ International Graduate School for Peace and Public Leadership
Tiar Rkia
European Women of Faith Network - EWFN
Tomer Persico
Shalom Hartman Institute
Vilmos Hanti
The international federation of the resistance fighters (FIR) - association of the anti-fascists – Germany
Willem Koetsier
Copies to:
The Honorable Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic
The Honorable Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State
Susan Kerr, Special Advisor on FoRB at ODIHR/OSCE
Nazila Ghanea, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights

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