Researching sects in eastern France

Two journalists published a book about sects in Alsace, Lorraine and in Franche-Comte.As a secondary issue, it also include aspects of border-crossings. For instance, Scientologists from Basel are distributing leaflets in southern Alsatian villages.

Basel, Switzerland
April 19, 2000
Basler Zeitung

Mulhouse.In their recently published book, "Sectes, des paradis totalitaires?," two TV journalists, Jean-Pierre Stucki and Catherine Munsch, have presented a state of affairs on sects in Alsace, Lorraine and in Franche-Comte, which, however, makes absolutely no claim as to completeness. To some degree, they rely for their information on two parliamentary inquiry committee reports, which were presented at the behest of the French National Assembly in 1995 and 1999. The latter had dealt primarily with economic issues and sect relationships to circles in business and finance. Furthermore, there is an interministerial work group which has recently presented its "Report 2000."

Alsace and Religion

In their chapter on the regional context, the authors indicate there is a strong presence of diverse religious groups in Alsace; several hundred groups belong to the major middle European religions of Catholicism, Protestantism and Jewry, to which Islam has recently been added. Also in Alsace, because of its history, there is a specific local law which is different from the rest of France in regard to the founding of associations. This has definite significance in reference to religious groups which are not officially recognized. For instance, the Strassburg Administrative Court has decreed that the Scientologists be entered in the Upper Alsatian association register despite protests by the prefect.

Germany and Switzerland are also discussed. The book says that the Scientologists and the Jehovahs Witnesses are the sects most strongly represented in Germany. The dealings with sects vary from state to state. In Bavaria, for example, Scientologists may not be government officials. It says about Switzerland, "Switzerland, however, is viewed by numerous movements as a friendly, receptive region, and they have established their European or worldwide headquarters there." Many sects which have their headquarters in Switzerland or in Germany are said to have bought real estate and castles in Haute-Saone and in Jura. The chapter entitled "State of affairs" has an alphabetic list of sects. In it is found, under "Amritabha," the group of a German healer who has bought a large estate in upper Alsatian Ribeauville.

Anthroposophy on list of sects

The authors included Anthroposophy on their list, even though they indicated that the parliamentary investigative commissioner had a great deal of trouble in their evaluation of Anthroposophy. For example, their report, as cited in the book, talks about the Steiner Schools, "If it is also evident that not all the schools can be seen as sectarian, it can also been seen that several warrant deeper investigation." At the same time the book came out at the end of March, the 17th Criminal Court of Paris convicted the President of the parliamentary investigative commissioner, Jacques Guyard, of libel. He had talked about Anthroposophy in a television interview. The attorney of the accusing Anthroposophical establishment had stated, according the the newspaper "L'Alsace," "The long, contradictory discussion before the criminal court has made it possible to keep the word 'sect' being used for the professional activities which refer back to Anthroposophy."

About the Scientologists the authors wrote, "To our knowledge, the 'Church' of Scientology is not, at least officially, represented in the ten departments of eastern France. But it has again become active there, particularly in southern Alsace, where leaflets with the address of the Scientology center in Basel are handed out."

authoritarian Jehovas Witnesses

Of the Jehovahs Witnesses it is said that there are 130,000 members in France (figures from 1995); in Alsace there are said to be between 5,000 and 7,000 members. The movement is described as very authoritarian in response to deviant opinion of its members. In the beginning of 1996 in Vogesen there was an attempt to build a regional center capable of holding 2,000 people. It failed when resisted by the community council.

Another chapter discusses attempts by sects to gain influence in areas of society like schools, law or the health system. The Scientologists, for instance, sent out a book a year and a half ago to all French high schools about the education theory of Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. In November 1999, parents in upper Alsace found in their children's book bags a text and questionnaire written by the Scientologists.

Sects active in many fields

Sects also work in continuing education. For instance a company, which uses methods including those of the Avatar group, which was in turn founded by a former Scientologist, held 25 continuing education classes for the French EDF electric company with a four year period. One of those took place in 1995 in a Guebwiller hotel for employees of the AKW Fessenheim. More pages are dedicated to the form of discussion and of the resistance against sects. Furthermore, the authors pursue the question of why there are sects at all and suggest conclusive alternatives of resolution.

The book is well worked out and gives a good overview about the problems of dealing with sects in eastern France, nevertheless it only skims the surface; as a reader, as a read one would want extensive research. It does, however, provide an effective entry point into the general problem area.

Peter Schenk

Jean-Pierre Stucki/Catherine Munsch: Sectes, des paradis totalitaires?,
Desmaret, Strassburg 2000, 176 pages,
110 French franks, ISBN 2-913675-04-2.

Charges against Scientology

The police will not take action on their own -Next week shop owners want to press charges

From: "Badische Zeitung" of November 28, 1998 by staff member, Louis Posern

In this issue of the Badische Zeitung, Louis Posern covered the newly passed law which forbids importunate advertising on public ground and which took effect on Thursday. As Mr. Posern said, the police were not going to take any action on their own to keep the Scientologists from recruiting on the street. In order for them to do anything, someone would have to file a complaint, upon which the offender would be issued a ticket. The ticket could be disputed in court.

Mr. Posern further reported that Rolf Fuhrer, president of the the area's business association, said that members of his association would begin complaining the next week, if the police had not done anything by that time. Mr. Posern summarized the situation by writing:

The sect recruiters have apparently not been frightened off by the law. They were at their customary places as usual. On Thursday, moreover, they were standing right in front of the police, who were warning people several steps away to beware of pickpockets. "That was a coincidence," said Herbert Maritz. The officers had not received a surveillance assignment.

Scientology's Neutral Mail

Letter to the Editor
From: "Basler Zeitung" (Basel Newspaper)
May 7, 1998

Concerning the advertisement of the Scientologists

The importune advertisement methods of the Scientologists have become a familiar fact. Whether it be picket signs or mass mailings which suggest that the majority of the observers are mindless marionettes. With the exception, of course, of those people who are like-minded to L. Ron Hubbard and his zealous assistants and heralds. Another recruitment measure of this organization has taken the shape as follows: the sect now enlists civil guard organizations for their goals, and uses neutral mail disguised as a free ticket together with newspaper from the civil guard. But mainly, it is an undesired printed matter with information of doubtful character. The goal of this method of dissemination is clear. The envelope is to be opened by the addressee, who is then confronted by a misleading newspaper entitled "Freiheit Schweiz" ("Freedom Switzerland"). A good reaction to this letter is to not get upset and toss it into the trash. Better yet, return everything unstamped to sender.

Guido Knickenberg, Stein