Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The French Verdict

The 30 Second Skinny Staff members of the Church of Scientology in France have been found guilty of fraud and fined €600,000. The fraudulent activities in question are not the peculiar acts of a a few bad apples but the same kind of behaviour that is routinely expected of staff members. The situation is similar to that of Operation Snow White in which a number of high-ranking staff members were convicted of breaking into Governtment buildings in America. The individuals were supposed to have been expelled from the church but it seems they never were.

As has been widely reported, the trial earlier in the year of the French chapter of the Church of Scientology has reached a verdict and has found the Church guilty of fraud. They have imposed a fine on the Paris bookshop to the value of €600,000 (£544,000/$901,000) along with fines on individual Church staff members.

There will now inevitably be a washing of hands; we know this, because we have been here before. Karen Pouw or Tommy Davis will explain that the French trial reflects the actions of a few bad apples, inevitable in any organisation, and that they would be rooted out (indeed, routed out) and expelled. If such statements are made, let's recall a couple of points.

Firstly, the actions that led to the trial are not practices that are peculiar to a few malicious church members. As CNN reports,
the plaintiffs focused their complaints on the use of a device that Scientologists say measures spiritual well-being. Members used the electropsychometer, or E-Meter, to "locate areas of spiritual duress or travail so they can be addressed and handled," according to Scientology's Web site.
The plaintiffs said that, after using the device, they were encouraged to pay for vitamins and books. They said that amounted to fraud.

So the fraudulent activities of the Church involved offering personality tests, falsely diagnosing personality defects, and then selling books and vitamins to correct those defects. They invent a problem, and sell a fake remedy to alleviate it. These are the standard business practices of the church, not some Slatkin-esque Ponzi scheme wicked staff members were running on the side.

The second thing to point out is that although society at large has deemed Church staff out ethics, they are not going to be viewed as out ethics within the church (beyond the high crime of getting caught). This echoes Operation Snow White, where a large number of church members were found guilty of breaking into federal buildings with an aim to destroy records. Following the verdict, we were told that those involved, many of whom were high-ranking Church members, would be expelled, but they were not expelled.

The French trial ruled that the Church not be dissolved, but that it could only continue within the law. It will be very interesting to see whether such a restriction, considering how the law has been defined in relation to the Church's commercial practices, will become a de facto order of dissolution any way.


Well I couldn't have been wronger! Tommy Davis has now played the "religious freedom" card instead. I guess the question, then, is whether or not religious freedom should mean "free to break the law".

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