By Frank James
The Church of Scientology's troubles in Europe continued on Tuesday with a French court's conviction of the religious group on fraud charges.
The court didn't accede to prosecutors' requests for a ban on the group, however. The Associated Press reports that the court didn't order a ban out of sense of futility with the court opining that the group would just continue in France even if were declared illegal.
But Reuters reports that it was unwillingness to apply a new law ex post facto that stopped the court.
The group was nonetheless fined in euros the equivalent of about $900,000. According to the AP:
The court convicted the Church of Scientology's French office, its library and six of its leaders of organized fraud. Investigators said the group pressured members into paying large sums of money for questionable financial gain and used "commercial harassment" against recruits...
The verdict is "an Inquisition of modern times," said Scientology spokeswoman Agnes Bron, referring to efforts to rout out heretics of the Roman Catholic Church in centuries past.
The group said it would appeal the verdict.
More from the AP:
The head of an association that helps victims of sects, Catherine Picard, called the verdict "intelligent."
"Scientology can no longer hide behind freedom of conscience," she said...
...The original complaint in the case dates back more than a decade, when a young woman said she took out loans and spent the equivalent of euro21,000 on books, courses and "purification packages" after being recruited in 1998. When she sought reimbursement and to leave the group, its leadership refused. She was among three eventual plaintiffs.
Olivier Morice, lawyer for civil parties in the case, said the verdict was "historic" because it was the first time in France that the Church of Scientology has been convicted of organized fraud.
Investigating judge Jean-Christophe Hullin spent years examining the group's activities, and in his indictment criticized what he called the Scientologists' "obsession" with financial gain and practices he said were aimed at plunging members into a "state of subjection."
While Scientology has been officially accepted in the U.S. as a religion, with the Internal Revenue Service granting it tax-exempt status, it has had an often antagonistic relationship with European governments, especially in Germany, France and Belgium. German officials had once sought to ban the group but relented.
Over the years, European actions against Scientology have caused the U.S. State Department officials to defend with their European counterparts Scientology's right to exist.
Scientology's profile has been raised in part because of some its famous adherents, like actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
According to the Scientology website, the religion's "essential tenets" are:
"You are an immortal spiritual being."
"Your capabilities are unlimited if not presently realized."
"Furthermore, man is basically good. He is seeking to survive. And his survival depends upon himself and his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe."