Holding to account
by: John Tyrrell
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In France, the highest appeal court has upheld an organized fraud conviction against two French operations of the Church of Scientology.
A spokesman for the church in France, Eric Roux, responded:
"We're being judged for our beliefs, not our behaviour. How can the Cours de Cassation decide that our beliefs are untrue or fraudulent, but not say the same thing about Protestants or Catholics?"
I would suggest that in terms of a fraud conviction. they are being judged on behaviour. That is the long ago documented practice of pressuring followers to pay, pay, and pay again for questionable deliverables.
And as to comparing Scientology to Protestants and Catholics - well, they are considered religions in France, and Scientology is not.
But Roux does have a point. Why aren't Protestant and Catholic organizations treated the same as Scientology? Pressure to donate is not unknown in many religious organizations. Should religious status exempt an organization from fraud charges? I don't think it should.
Regardless, the real problem is that much of Scientology's deliverables are in the here-and-now and can be assessed. Most other religions' primary deliverables are in a hypothetical afterlife and cannot be assessed.
I'm sympathetic to Scientology's claim to be a religion - it's up to an organization to make this claim about itself rather than some outside body determining what constitutes a religion and what does not. But being classified as a religion should not exempt any organization from the law or provide special treatment.
What we need to see is more religions held to account for their claims and their actions - particularly their high-pressure fundraising actions. As so many religions claim their religion is the basis of morality, they should welcome being held to account. They should not look for exemptions in the law, but rather, they should demand to be held to the strictest legal standards.
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