Mar 15, 2021 | Willy Fautré | Freedom of Religion and Belief | HRWF
In its latest report titled “Lutte contre les dérives sectaires” (Fight against cultic deviations), the MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat against Cultic Deviances) acknowledges that in 2020 only 25% “cultic deviations” are related to religious beliefs, according to its own definition of this homemade concept which has no legal equivalent in the world. The remaining 75% concern other sectors of society.
An analysis of some statistics
“Cult deviances”: The MIVILUDES’ statistics about the notifications of “cultic deviations” unrelated to religious beliefs:
- health and well-being: 40%
- youth: 23%
- imminent security issues: 20%
- economic activities, labor, employment or professional training: 17%
Interestingly as well, the report mentions that 3,008 notifications of “cultic deviances” have been received, 686 (almost 30%) have been considered serious but only 16 (0.5%) have been forwarded to prosecutors under Article 40 of the Criminal Proceedings Code, which makes it mandatory for a public servant who becomes aware of a crime to denounce it to a prosecutor. In other words, the MIVILUDES itself recognized there was no crime to be prosecuted in 99.5% of the cases. It is not said in the report if the 16 cases forwarded to the judiciary were really prosecuted and if any led to a conviction. Such information is important and also needs to be made public.
Minors at risks: Concerning the alleged exposition of minors to alleged “cultic deviations”, the MIVILUDES’ report mentions 500 referral files. However, the figure of 90,000 minors at risks – an undefined term – was published by Marlène Schiappa, Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship, attached to the Minister of the Interior, i.e., in the position dealing inter alia with “cults,” in a press release dated 24 February 2021. This figure is probably related to the Report of the Inquiry Commission of the National Assembly (2006) which then put the figure at 100,000 but the MIVILUDES says in its report that it cannot confirm it. Another figure has also circulated in documents of the Senate. In fact, all these statistics are not based on any scientific study.
Change of paradigm: hope for the future?
For more than two decades, scholars in religious studies and human rights defenders have strongly criticized France’s “cult-hunting policy” as infringing on international standards on freedom of religion or belief. The MIVILUDES has now decided to take into consideration UN and OSCE standards and reports as well as the jurisprudence of the European Court. It has opted for a new policy: to replace “the fight against cults” by “the fight against cultic deviances.”
Will this change of paradigm lead to a different policy and good practices? This remains to be seen.
Dr Massimo Introvigne, Former OSCE Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions”, has scrutinized the MIVILUDES’ report in a paper titled “Anti-cultism in France: Old/ New Risks for Religious Liberty?” published in Bitter Winter on 13 March 2021. Among many other things, he stresses:
“The report admits that the first French approach, leading to the publication in 1996 of a list of “cults” that immediately became very controversial, was wrong. (…)
Recognizing the mistake, the report explains, led to focus not on ‘cults’ but on ‘cultic deviances,’ a new notion “unknown to the fields of religion, sociology, and law” created ad hoc by the French government. (…)
To its credit, MIVILUDES is now repudiating the strategy of the 1990s that led to the publication of lists of ‘cults,’ and caused years of suffering to the members of the groups so labeled and ‘stigmatized.’ But as long as accusation of ‘cultic deviances’ are liberally applied to cases where, as the MIVILUDES itself admits, there is no crime in more than 99% of the incidents it has considered, an attitude of general suspicion against all groups perceived as ‘different’ or ‘alternatives’ will be perpetuated. And this is a problem for religious liberty and democracy.”
In addition, the change of paradigm will not have any influence on the understanding of the issue in public opinion as the word “cult” (secte in French) has always been exclusively related to religious or spiritual groups with a negative connotation. This feeling will remain unchanged with the word cultic (sectaire in French) associated to another negative word “deviation” (dérive in French). For the media consumer, any information about “cultic deviations” will be understood as exclusively related to a religious cult, and not otherwise.
In conclusion, criminal activities, whatever they are, need to be detected in due time and prosecuted but transparency in the use of tax-payers’ money is also necessary if one wants it to be efficiently used.
The MIVILUDES’ official budget of last year was about 500,000 EUR but researchers have been unable to check how this money is used. They were told that it was included in the budget of the Prime Minister. More transparency is also to be introduced in this regard.