A fraud trial is underway in France, against Scientology — specifically, its center in France and its Paris bookstore — which, depending on the outcome, and only after a long appeal process, could shut down this bogus religion in that country altogether. The Guardian (UK) reports on this case:

France’s Church of Scientology today went on trial on charges of organised fraud in a case that could lead to the nationwide dissolution of the controversial organisation. …

Six leading members, including the celebrity centre’s director, Alain Rosenberg, also face charges of illegally distributing pharmaceuticals.

The case is the second in six years to accuse the French church of fraud. It stems from the testimony of a French woman who filed an official complaint against the organisation in 1998. …

The investigating magistrate in charge of bringing the case against the church, Jean-Christophe Hullin, argues she was the victim of a deliberately manipulative system that exploits vulnerable people in order to make money.

In his indictment, Hullin said the church, which has been glamourised by Hollywood members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, made a profit by placing individuals in a “state of subjection”. The organisation, he argued, is “first and foremost a commercial business” whose actions reveal “a real obsession for financial remuneration”.

Scientology has reacted with the same kind of sanctimonious outrage one might expect of a true religion:

The church denies any evidence of psychological manipulation, and decries what it has called a “carefully orchestrated campaign” by French anti-cult organisations to shut it down. “This is a sacrilegious trial,” said spokesman Danièle Gounord yesterday. Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for the church, said he would fight every charge. …

This, of course, flies in the face of Scientology’s history in France:

While some countries, such as the US, consider Scientology a religion, France categorises it as a sect, and the country’s courts have convicted several individuals of fraud over the past decades — most notably its science fiction-writing creator, L Ron Hubbard, in 1978.

While the chance exists that Scientology could be banned from France if there’s a conviction, that would take some time:

However, commentators said yesterday such an outcome would be a long time coming as the church would undoubtedly appeal against a guilty verdict.

Scientology has historically had a lot of trouble getting itself accepted as a religion rather than as what it is — a complex, yet no less obvious, money-making scheme.

It was a collection of high-sounding and neologism-laced — yet trite and kooky — ideas when first written about by its founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, in a book titled Dianetics. Shortly after it came out, Martin Gardner revealed it to be fraudulent in his seminal Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, and all of Gardner’s critiques remain valid, more than 5 decades after that book’s last edition.

Since then, the late Lafayette Ronald and his followers have only continued to prove Gardner’s assessment correct. They’ve gone after critics using both legal and illegal tactics; have used lawsuits to silence or simply get revenge on detractors; their “treatment facilities” (I hesitate to call them “hospitals” or even “clinics”) have been host to mysterious deaths; they’ve trolled the Internet looking for criticism and gone after people and Web sites; and Lafayette Ronald himself had only marginal mental health.

In the decades since Gardner’s book was last updated, additional weirdness has been revealed about Scientology, including the business about some primeval cosmic warlord named Xenu. (This particular story would be hilarious, if not for the fact that there are people who actually believe it.)

One can only hope that as a result of this case, the French courts finally declare Scientology — with some legality and finality — the fraudulent organization we know it to be.

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