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Religious Freedom In France Again Under Attack

By Janey DeMeo
05/26/09 France (ANS) — When my husband Louis and myself left France in 2003 after 22 years of missions and church-planting, we felt satisfied that our efforts to expose the increasingly outrageous attacks on religious liberty had not been in vain. Ambiguously drafted bills placing Christians in precarious situations were held abet, no doubt because France received international pressure spearheaded by the Helsinki Commission and the US Congress.

But today, disturbing news arises from France and it looks as if religious freedom is again in jeopardy. Christians may soon find themselves targeted and labeled as cults-much as they were in 1995.

A recent government report entitled “La justice face aux derives sectaires” (best translated as “Justice with Regard to Sect or Cult Abuse”) apparently provides a dangerous platform to restrict religious freedom because of its confusing criteria which opens a door for subjective interpretation on what a cult might actually look like.

Drawn up by Mr. Georges Fenech, president of MIVILUDES, the Inter-Ministerial Mission of Vigilance, the report was created for the French Prime Minister in order to combat cultish or sectarian tendencies. But the report raises red flags concerning human rights and freedom of religion because of its subjective, hazy language.

News reports highlight other pending government policies which, if approved, could gravely endanger religious freedom in France because they could target certain move ments, communities, or churches and label them as sects or cults. In other words, serious restrictions could be placed on people and groups so that their freedom to worship or to express their faith would be hampered-or possibly totally squelched altogether.

Congressman Trent Franks and five other congressional representatives wrote to French ambassador, Pierre Vimont at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C. urging him to recognize the danger of the new report, particularly with regards to such issues as:

“. . . protecting children from their parents’ beliefs and protecting individuals MIVILUDES deems vulnerable from “‘psychological subjection.'”

The US representatives’ letter to Mr. Viment underscores the dangers imposed on religious liberty by Mr. Fenech’s report in which indistinct restrictions on religious practices and freedoms ignore international policies to protect freedom of choice. The letter also brings out the fact that this new report seems to be a reenactment of the 1995 “black list” of so-called sects which was discarded in 2005 by Jean-Pierre Raffarin (when he was Prime Minister).

The letter from the six US representatives’ reminds Mr. Viment that the MIVILUDES report breaches France’s international obligations and misrepresents her position as a US ally.

The report not only violates religious freedom agreements, but it also is defies progress, by bringing us back to 1995 when several other men and women of congress fought to bring to light the situation in France where, under the “black list,” many wholesome churches were labeled as pernicious cults, discriminated against and even “persecuted.” (Not violent persecution such as our brothers and sisters in countries like China or the Sudan experience, but nonetheless persecution. I speak firsthand, since the work my husband and I founded in France was victim of that “black list,” as were many other main-stream Christian groups.)

In 1995, the French government commissioned a group of people to create a “black list” of cults and sects in reaction to the Solar Temple Cult-a real cult whose persuasive manipulation (brainwashing) was catalyst to the massive suicides which took place in Switzerland and France.

But the “black list” was not formulated on a factual, objective study but was the result of a sort of “witch hunt” based on hearsay and void of any official defining criteria or meter to measure what a cult is. Thus, churches which were not shy to evangelize and preach Jesus were labeled.

Although the “black list” was not an official document-and therefore could not legally be used in court-it hurt individuals, families and churches. Its repercussions included a torrent of hate crimes whereby Christians were targeted, various church members lost their loss employment, and the state intervened in the lives of families to try to prevent homeschooling efforts by threatening them imprisonment.

In our case, our Theological Institute came under scrutiny and we were audited, our phones were tapped and four cars were blown up on our Bible College campus the same wee k my husband, Louis, was asked to testify about religious freedom (or lack thereof) before the Helsinki Commission.

US Congressmen Christopher Smith, Joseph Pitts and Tom Tancredo were highly instrumental in combating our case and others, and fighting for religious liberty in Europe. I believe their efforts were rewarded when, in 2005, that “”black list was abandoned. Karen Lord was another brave combatant who worked for the Helsinki Commission. Miss Lord traveled to France and fought the fight for religious freedom in spite of a heavy bout of cancer which eventually took her life at a young age.

Tom Tancredo-recently retired, longstanding house representative of Colorado and former presidential candidate-worked hard with international leaders on religious freedom in Europe. He has also worked hard to bring attention to the dangers confronting America today-a nation which is sadly fast following in the footsteps of Europe. Footsteps which risk reaping heavy results such as that of losing our religious freedom.