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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scientology Faces Judgment in France...

Here's a quote from an article in today's NY Times:

The French branch of the Church of Scientology was convicted of fraud and fined nearly $900,000 on Tuesday by a Paris court.  But the judges did not ban the church entirely, as the prosecution had demanded, saying that a change in the law prevented such an action for fraud . . .

The case was brought by two former members who said they were pushed into paying large sums of money in the 1990s, pressed to sign up for expensive “purification courses” and harassed to buy a variety of vitamins and other forms of pharmaceuticals, plus electronic tests to measure spiritual progress.  One woman said she had been pressured into spending more than $30,000.

The Guardian and the Daily Mail also report on it.  This is a pretty small judgment by American standards, and the Church seems easily able to pay it.  The judges did not ban the Church altogether; some reports said they feared driving the Scientologists underground. 

As people may intuitively suspect, this seems to be "fraud" only in a very limited sense.  I haven't seen allegations that the Scientology people don't actually believe it.  Without proof of such allegations, I would think any prosecution for fraud in this country would violate the First Amendment under an old case, United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944). 

Yet having said that, Scientologists and other groups like the Hare Krishnas have been nearly bankrupted by some very large tort judgments in the United States, arising from claims like intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment (usually of a mental/emotional type).  It's a fluctuating field, and courts have yet to work out how tort rules should operate here.  There are a number of issues -- you can see how, when evaluated under purely nonreligious standards, religious people can be seen as constantly committing outrageous and intentional acts that naturally become the subject of litigation whenever they cause mental distress.

Posted by Chris Lund on October 27, 2009 at 03:17 PM | Permalink

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