A French appeals court has refused to overturn a 2009 conviction for organized fraud against the Church of Scientology. The organization had claimed the original verdict violated its right to freedom of religion.
The judge also upheld rulings pronounced against six individual members of the church, including Alain Rosenberg, its head in France.
The Church of Scientology, which has engaged in several legal battles with France’s strict anti-cult legislation, has vowed to further challenge the ruling of the country’s highest court of appeal “at the international level,” which leaves it with the recourse of taking its case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The 2009 ruling levied a fine of €600,000 on the California-headquartered organization and €30,000 on Rosenberg. The church was accused of preying on vulnerable people to gain new members and membership dues in the late 1990s, including forcing people to pay for “exclusive” scriptures and electrometers that “measured” mental energy.
The Church of Scientology has called the ruling “an affront to justice and religious liberty,” and a show of “anti-religious extremism,” calling the proceedings “a heresy trial.”
“The Court failed to address the fundamental violations of the human rights of each of the defendants that infected every level of this case,” it said in a written statement.
But several public groups, including the head of the parliamentary group on cults, Georges Fenech, have welcomed the judge’s decision.
“Far from being a violation of freedom of religion, as this American organization contends, this decision lifts the veil on their illegal and highly detrimental practices,” Fenech said.
The Church of Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1953, espouses the fundamental belief that human beings are inhabited by immortal spirits that have lived thousands of previous lives in other worlds. It claims to have over 10 million members worldwide, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and maintains a tightly-guarded campus in California, to which only a select few members are admitted.
The Church of Scientology claims 45,000 members in France, where it operates a bookshop and a Celebrity Center.