The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom speaks out on the disturbing implications of the proposed amendments to the already bad French law against “cults.”
by Massimo Introvigne
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed its concern about France’s proposed amendments to its existing anti-cult law, which would make it even more dangerous than it already is for freedom of religion or belief.
The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Its Commissioners are appointed by the President and by Congressional leaders of both political parties. Its main goal is monitoring the state of religious freedom in the world. Consequently, USCIRF reports situations that, according to its authoritative evaluation, represent a serious danger to freedom of religion or belief.
Although some occasionally funny but not particularly bright anti-cultists associated with FECRIS, the European anti-cult umbrella organization, have advanced the ridiculous claim that USCIRF is a group of Christian right-wing extremists unduly influenced by “Bitter Winter,” it is in fact widely regarded as one of the most authoritative religious liberty watchdogs in the world. Its current Chair is Abraham Cooper, a well-known Jewish Rabbi and human rights activist.
Rabbi Cooper issued a statement through the official USCIRF X (Twitter) account, expressing its concern that “Building on the problematic 2001 [anti-cult] About-Picard law, these changes [to the law] would allow govt orgs known to target religious minority groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses & Scientologists to participate in cult-related criminal proceedings.” He referred to the fact that the amendments to the law would both recommend to prosecutors and judges to consult with the controversial governmental anti-cult organization MIVILUDES in “cult”-related proceedings and allow even more controversial private anti-cult groups to participate in legal cases as civil parties.
Indeed, in a previous X statement, also referring to the discussion of these law amendments in France, USCIRF invited to “Read USCIRF’s report on Religious Freedom Concerns in the European Union to learn more about religious freedom violations in France, including state-led discrimination against groups the government characterizes as ‘cults.’”
The USCIRF report was published in July 2023 and noted that “Several governments in the EU have supported or facilitated the propagation of harmful information about certain religious groups. For example, the French government has funded the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS), a French non-profit created in 1994 that has pejoratively labeled some religious associations as ‘sects’ or ‘cults.’ Similarly, an official body under the French Ministry of the Interior…—the Inter-Ministerial Mission in the Vigilance and Combat against Sectarian Derivatives (MIVILUDES)—releases an annual report that regularly disparages groups including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology. The organization has partnered with government agencies, religious organizations, and civil society to inform them about so-called ‘cults’ and has generated largely positive reactions from French media outlets, which has in turn negatively impacted societal respect for those associated with religious organizations that MIVILUDES labels as sects or cults. MIVILUDES has also funded various NGOs that target religious organizations considered harmful ‘sects,’ including the National Union of Associations in Defense of Families and Individual Victims of Sects (UNADFI) and the Centre Against Mental Manipulation (CCMM).”
Also on X, the USCIRF under the signature of Commissioner Mohamed Magid added that “USCIRF is concerned by the religious freedom implications of #France’s proposed amendments that would strengthen existing cult-related offenses and increase the penalties for violations.”
The proposed amendments would make it easier to criminalize “cults” for subjugating “victims” through the imaginary techniques of “mental subjection” or “brainwashing,” whose existence and use by new religious movements have been denied by courts of law in several countries and by the vast majority of scholars of new religious movements. USCIRF has also repeatedly referred to theories of brainwashing and mental control as used by “cults” as part of the pseudo-scientific anti-cult ideology propagated by FECRIS with the support of some governments, including France and Russia.