A French court fined the Church of Scientology $888,000 on Tuesday after a couple claimed they’d been manipulated into buying between $30,000 and $73,000 worth of church products. The verdict is “a historical turning point for the fight against cult abuses,” said the leader of France’s “government cult-fighting unit.” How does this special cult-busting unit distinguish between cults and bona fide religions?
Vaguely. French law doesn’t define the term “cult.” Rather, it uses the expression “cultlike movements” to describe groups that demand unreasonable financial contributions, encourage nonparticipation in elections, promote anti-social behavior, or cut members off from their families. It’s easier to target bad behavior, the thinking goes, than to get into a semantic debate over what is and isn’t a cult. The French government has, however, tried to define the term in the past. In 1995, a special parliamentary commission compiled a list of 10 cultish characteristics, including the indoctrination of children, a mentally unstable membership, and the attempt to infiltrate public institutions. The commission also released a list of 173 groups that qualify as cults—that is, they meet at least one of the 10 criteria—including the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology.(At least one group—the followers of Anthroposophy—sued the report’s main author for defamation and won.)
[Read more at Slate]