France’s highest appeals court on Wednesday upheld a 2009 “organized fraud” conviction against the Church of Scientology’s French branch, its bookstore, and five of its leaders. The Cour de Cassation rejected the church’s appeal, which argued that the conviction violated religious freedoms. Although Scientology is recognized as a religion in the United States, Spain, and Sweden, it is considered a business and not a church under French law.
The Church of Scientology claims to have more than 10 million members worldwide, including 45,0000 in France. In 2009, five plaintiffs accused the church of manipulating them into spending tens of thousands of euros on Scientology books and merchandise. Convictions and fines of €400,000 and €200,000 (approximately $812,000) were handed down to the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a Scientology bookshop in Paris. In addition, five top French Scientology officials received suspended prison sentences. Alain Rosenberg, the leader of the French Church of Scientology, was also sentenced to pay a €30,000 ($41,000) fine. The case was brought to the Cour de Cassation a year after a lower court of appeals declined to overturn the original verdict.
Scientology International released a statement Wednesday condemning the court’s actions. “The decision by the French Cassation Court is an affront to justice and religious liberty,” the church said. “Scientology is a worldwide religious movement practiced in 184 nations. Its bona fides and the rights of its members to practice their faith unimpeded by government interference have been acknowledged by the high courts of many nations, including unanimous decisions by the European Court of Human Rights.” The statement indicated that the French Church of Scientology would “seek justice to vindicate its right to religious freedom at the international level” by bringing the case to the European Court of Human Rights.