Sunday, November 01, 2009

Belgian newspaper De Morgen On Legal Choices To Hit Scientology

Thank you to Anonymous member TrevAnon for posting about the following article Belgian newspaper De Morgen on legal choices to hit Scientology. I have posted the original via BlogThis and have provided an English translation summary posted by another anonymous member because the Google translation did not translate the title accurately.

De Morgen De Gedachte -
Tref scientology in het hart (1022367) Belgium

Anonymous Summary:

Be firm with Scientology
Luc Willems is a lawyer who is the former reporter of the parliamentary inquiry into the cults and former senator for Open VLD, a liberal Belgian political party. Den Morgen is a reputable somewhat Leftist newspaper.

Belgian law, like French law but unlike English law, is Napoleonic and so depends on the application of general categories such as abuse of trust, extortion, illegal practice of medicine, or theft.

In France this week Scientology was convicted of organized fraud and in the U.S. is under attack by several legal suits brought by former members. In Belgium also several lawsuits against the cult are pending. Luc Willems has been occupied with the problem of cults for years: "Police and public prosecutors still do not have the right weapons to fight cults.”

The power that these organizations want to exercise conflict with basic rights and freedoms. To what extent should the government intervene?

Opinions are divided. Some say people should think for themselves; others feel that when people in distress are being manipulated, there should be more government intervention.

In the field of consumer protection the government in the seventies already set rules and enforcement to protect consumers from deception and misleading sales practices. A clear choice was made in favor of protecting the individual over the unbridled freedom of contract. And with success.

In Scientology the same question arises. Scientology followers are recruited through personal contacts or cover organizations. The potential victim is put through a profound personality test. The outcome of these tests is always similar: there are problems, but they can be cured by Scientology. The potential cult-member then gets a communication course offered at almost no cost or even free. Then a new course follows that costs more and before the cult-member knows he or she is immersed in the Church of Scientology and they pay expensive courses with questionable content and without results.

As long as this is done freely, there still is no problem. Gradually, however, the organization takes control over the cult member's personal life. Then it gets dangerous. Is the member able to get out at any time he wants? Does Scientology respect that choice? Does Scientology allow the ex-member to quietly build up his life again? There are many testimonies of victims against Scientology in this respect. Victims quickly lose 50,000 euros and their lives with it. They go further into debt to be able to take courses.

People in the throes of a personal crisis are particularly vulnerable: a broken relationship, job loss or loneliness makes them vulnerable to the feel-good-courses. The effects in relational and financial terms are dramatic. The same problems occur with therapeutic and other religious cults.

Rain in Paris

The parliamentary inquiry into cults in 1997 identified a series of failures in legislation and administration. Despite fierce criticism from cults, the majority of the recommendations from the inquiry were implemented into guidelines and legislation, and made operational. The most important part was the independent IACSSO, the advisory centre that informs the general public about cults in our country. Addressing the harmful cults was efficient and there followed a number of convictions. One recommendation which would criminalise the core business of cults has so far remained a dead letter: this is the mental destabilization of individuals and the abuse of vulnerable people. Since 2001 France has the About-Picard law which addresses these questions.

This law allows for prosecution to investigate proactively and for the courts to condemn serious violations. In Belgium, the prosecution must rely on more general crimes such as forgery, abuse of trust, extortion, receiving stolen goods, theft, slander, defamation or unlawful practice of medicine. The core of the activity, the abuse of the mental weakness of certain groups of people, remains out of reach. A thoughtful and effective legislation is essential to address certain issues. Police and public prosecutors have to date no appropriate legislative means to fight the dubious and reprehensible practices of certain cults.

Drizzle in Brussels

The support for legislation designed to prosecute such cases has significantly increased over the years. The opinions of the parliamentary monitoring committee in 2005 and the IACSSO indicated that there is wide cross-party support. However no parliamentary debate took place. Now it's raining in Paris, is perhaps the time to let it drizzle in Brussels.

Here is the original via Blog This

Tref scientology in het hart

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