The New Heretics of France: Minority Religions, la République, and the Government-Sponsored "War on Sects"

By Susan J. Palmer | Go to book overview

PART III
REFLECTIONS ON THE MEANING
OF THE FRENCH SECT WARS

Now it is time to step back and survey the whole of the battlefield, to look for meaningful patterns in the French Sect Wars.

This new religious war is remarkable in several ways. It is, in essence, a bureaucratic war, waged on paper—through government reports, media articles, legal dossiers, and via the Internet—but with palpable results. It appears reasonable to assume that the “verbal violence” of hostile anticult propaganda on French Web sites, and of misleading, sensationalistic press coverage have contributed to the many acts of vandalism targeting new religions.1 In the year 2007, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had their Kingdom Hall in Villefranche sur Saône burned to the ground, and over the years 71 other Kingdom Halls have been vandalized.2 There have been a series of bombings of new religious centers, with a few resulting casualties, although only a few members have actually been wounded or killed.3 Massimo Introvigne goes so far as to call the deliberate spreading of information aimed at damaging or destroying a new religion as “anticult terrorism.”4 It is undeniable that many French citizens’ lives have been adversely affected through antisecte initiatives. Their businesses have gone bankrupt, their job applications have been rejected, promotions denied, and access to their own children denied or curtailed as a direct consequence of the whistle-blowing of anticult agents who exposed their affiliation with a so-called secte.

Despite clear constitutional guidelines that protect human rights and freedom of religion, intolerant attitudes toward minority faiths have become offcial policies, institutionalized in the highest levels of the government. Minority churches such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soka Gakkai, and Scientology, that have gained legal recognition in other countries, are not recognized in France. Freedom of religious expression for French Muslims and Sikhs is also somewhat limited, due to the ban on headscarves, face veils, turbans, and daggers, and a

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