Tuesday, 20 October 2009

32 Defending the CC President

June 16: The former president of the Celebrity Centre is a scapegoat in a symbolic trial against Scientology, said her lawyer, citing a host of distinguished legal authorities on freedom of religion.

The lawyers for Marie-Anne Pasturel and Aline Fabre had presented very different arguments.

Pasturel was accused of the illegal practice of pharmacy for having acted as the intermediary for G&G, who sold the vitamins and minerals required for Scientology’s Purification Rundown.

Maître Christian Bleucher had broadened his argument out from issues strictly concerning Scientology into a highly technical presentation on the French and European law regarding supplements.

His case was that France was lagging behind European law in this area and that if one took European Union law into account, as France had to, no charge should even have been brought against Pasturel.

Aline Fabre faced the same charge for her role in having supervised the Rundown at Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Paris.

Her lawyer, Maître Aurélie Cerceau, had argued that Fabre was a victim of the prejudice against Scientologists and warned against the danger of dismissing her account – and that of the other Scientologists who had testified – simply because of their beliefs.

In the absence of hard evidence against Fabre, there was no reason to accept the accounts given by her accusers over the testimony of Scientologists about the Rundown, she argued.

Now it was the turn of Maître Yann Streiff, who represented the defendant Sabine Jacquart. At the time of the alleged offences she had been president of the Celebrity Centre.

Jacquart faced two charges: of organised fraud and complicity in the illegal practice of pharmacy, because of her senior executive position at the Centre.

Maître Streiff, in his presentation, picked up the religious freedom argument that Maître Cerceau had advanced and ran it to its logical conclusion.

It was not enough for the court to insist that it was not interested in judging whether or not Scientology was a religion, said Streiff.

The prosecution’s summing up had completely undermined that position, given that it considered every rite in Scientology as fraudulent per se.

Nor could it be ignored that the court had spent most of its time subjecting Scientology’s religious rites to a detailed examination: the personality test; the electrometer used for Scientology’s counselling sessions; the auditing itself; and the Purification Rundown.

All this inevitably led the court back to examining fundamental questions of religious freedom.

Streiff named a string of distinguished French lawyers and academics who, at one time or another, had lent their expertise to defend Scientology – or at least individual Scientologists.

He mentioned Professor Bernard Bouloc, a law professor at the Sorbonne University, Paris; and Maître Olivier Metzner, a distinguished defence lawyer who had represented Scientologists in previous trials.[1]

And he quoted the first in a series of arguments developed by the distinguished French jurist Jean Carbonnier. Carbonnier had made a clear distinction between endorsing Scientology’s beliefs and defending its rights, said Streiff.

One does not have to subscribe to a system of beliefs oneself to be concerned about the attack on its liberties. If there is a legitimate issue here, it is certainly this: that religious liberty is indivisible.[2]

And just what was Mme Jacquart accused of, asked Streiff?

The charges had been laid against her by virtue of the position she held at the centre, nothing more. So far as illegal exercise of pharmacy was concerned, for example, she had not taken any direct role in the Purification Rundown at the heart of the charge.

The real problem lay elsewhere, he argued: in the hostility provoked by the strange, modern trappings of Scientology’s belief system. He quoted Carbonnier again:

The kingdom of God is preached less and less in eschatological terms: salvation is interpreted as finding a meaning to life. Right or wrong, that’s for the theologians to debate. But excluding the Church of Scientology alone from the list of religions, under the pretext that it is too much a part of the modern world, is effectively to make a scapegoat of it.

“Scientology is the scapegoat here,” said Streiff.

Court cannot judge religious beliefs

Religious freedom carried certain risks, Carbonnier had acknowledged: but there was no freedom without risk – and the dangers of curtailing such freedom were far greater.

There was a tendency in modern law, Carbonnier had argued, to protect – perhaps to over-protect – the consumer. It was one thing when we were talking about goods and services: but it was quite another to apply the same standards to a set of beliefs.

And again paraphrasing Carbonnier, Streiff argued that the paradox of Scientology’s faith and its scientific trappings was more apparent than real. “If someone shows that these are acts of faith, then where belief comes in, the science withdraws.

“Can the court judge an act of faith to be a fraudulent manoeuvre?” he asked. That would be a very slippery slope.

Previous court rulings in France and at the European level had acknowledged the religious nature of Scientology, Streiff argued. He quoted a French appeal court ruling from 1980.

The Church of Scientology appears to correspond to an activity that meets the definition ordinarily given to a religion, in which the court finds that in Scientology, despite the absence of metaphysical issues that have traditionally preoccupied the major Western religions, the subjective element of faith is completed by the existence of a humanity community, small though it is, whose members are united by a system of beliefs and practices related to sacred things.[3]

Streiff also quoted the respected French legal academic Professor Bernard Bouloc:

…trying to establish if Scientology, as a religion, was not trying to bring in money by using manoeuvres to try to persuade [people] of the existence of a power or imaginary benefits would be to ignore the principle set out in Article 1 of the Act of December 9, 1905, according to which the Republic ensures freedom of conscience and guarantees the free exercises of religion.

The same principle was also enshrined in international law, Professor Bouloc argued: in Article 10 of the Declaration of Human Rights and of the Citizen of 1789; Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights,[4] and Article 19 of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR].[5]

It follows from this that it is not for a court, even one judging a criminal offence, to judge the content the contents of a religion and to examine its internal organisation and practices in the exercise of its beliefs, [for] the principle of the neutrality of the state regarding religions and liberty of belief and conscience formally opposes this.[6]

The prosecution had made much of the bizarre language contained in Scientology’s organisation chart. “The organisational chart can shock, perhaps,” Streiff conceded. But as Professor Bouloc had pointed out:

…when it comes to religions, the rational is excluded: it is about beliefs and convictions. So the judge cannot judge what is irrational by rational standards… for every religion promises happiness in the hereafter rather than in the here and now, and another vision of the world. From a rational point of view, these promises are only delusions, but for the believer they are the truth or even reality.

No material evidence

Streiff returned to the plight of his client, Sabine Jacquart.

He had already argued that she was being targeted because of the position she had occupied at the time, rather than anything she had actually done.

Picking up this thread he asked, where was the material evidence against her apart from the fact that she had been president?

The plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton had not recognised Mme Jacquart in court when trying to identify the people responsible for having handled her during her time in Scientology, so apart from the position she once occupied, there was nothing solid against her.

The prosecution had done its best to pin the personality test on her, said Streiff. “But Mme Jacquart did not take care of the test. She never had anything to do with the test.”

And in any case, he added, the testimony of the Scientologist witnesses showed that the personality test was not the key recruitment tool the prosecution had tried to make it out to be.

But more importantly, the test formed part of Scientology’s religious rites and so was subject to the religious defence already set out.

Then there was the letter that Mme Jacquart had allegedly written to Mme Malton to recruit her to a staff job, said Streiff. In fact it had been a widely distributed circular designed to find someone to fill the position in question.

Streiff went through the other elements that the prosecution had set out as the instruments of the alleged fraud: none of them applied to his client, he argued.

The e-meter, which the prosecution had portrayed in such sinister terms, was not something Mme Jacquart had ever used to audit anyone, said Streiff. And although she owned one, she had never sold one.

It was a similar situation with the Purification Rundown: although she had taken part in it herself, she had never supervised other people in the rite.

The prosecution had tried to suggest that the accounts of the Association spirituelle de l'Eglise de Scientologie (ASES, which ran the Celebrity Centre) were not properly monitored: but the association had done everything that was legally required of it, said Streiff.

There was nothing then, to show that Mme Jacquart had played any direct role in any alleged offence, even assuming any had been committed. And when all the plaintiffs had got their money back, it was difficult to see how one could talk of a fraud.

Madame Jacquart had been cast in the role of the accused, but in fact that was not her true role at all. “You accuse, you judge: she believes,” he told the court.

For Mme Jacquart was simply a person of faith, a believer, said Streiff– something the court-appointed psychiatric expert Dr Daniel Zagury had acknowledged in his report.

We will not broach the question of intentionality here, which is probably not to harm, but to recruit followers, people who share the same vision of the world, according to a protocol and procedures gradually implemented by the organisation.

“I applaud his objectivity,” said Streiff.

“This is a symbolic trial”

There was no evidence to suggest that Mme Jacquart was not sincere in her beliefs, he said. This was a woman who had devoted herself to the movement she followed.

Yet at one point during the investigation she had been brought before the investigating magistrate in handcuffs. For Streiff, this said a lot about the hostility of the authorities towards Scientology.

And how had his client learned she would face trial, he asked rhetorically? In an article in the French daily Liberation, he said: the press had known about it before Mme Jacquart herself.[7] “All in the interest of having a good scapegoat.”

He recalled too, the media frenzy on the eve of the trial: Scientologie: une Secte qui fait peur (Scientology: a Cult that inspires fear) was the headline in the weekly news magazine L’Express.[8] “It makes good copy, but at what price?”

And there had been a documentary in a similar vein on the evening news that evening.

This kind of collaboration between the media and the courts only served to further stigmatise the defendants at the centre of the storm.

In fact, said Streiff, the real reason his client had been charged was as a means of getting at the personne morale: the association itself. “This is a symbolic trial, but not a practical trial,” he said.

And even during the trial she had been forced to write to the judge to complain of the harassment she was suffering from anti-Scientologists outside the court, he added.

As for the trial itself, where were the experts’ reports on the internal accounts of the association, he asked? Why had we not heard from the association’s former treasurer, doctors suspected of having colluded in running the Purification Rundown.

There had been a lot of innuendo about these and other matters, but this had only served to paper over the gaping holes in the indictment, said Streiff.

Nor was it acceptable for the court to cast aspersions on a witness’s honesty before he had even had a chance to testify, he added. This appeared to be a reference to Judge Sophie-Hélène Château’s remarks to Eric Roux, the Scientologist who spoke for the Celebrity Centre at the trial.

(Former Scientologist Roger Gonnet, in his testimony, had said that members of the movement were trained to lie to the court. “I imagine you have been well trained,” Judge Château remarked to Roux at the start of his testimony.)

Streiff was disturbed too by the role that UNADFI, the French alliance of counter-cult movements had played in the affair.

The organisation did have a legitimate role to play. But in applying for the status of plaintiffs themselves, they had stepped over the line, he said.

And why, he asked, had they waited until the beginning of the trial before submitting their application? “They pull a fast one and nobody says anything,” he said. (“On vous monte une baraque et tout ça provoque aucune reaction.”)[9]

UNADFI had received four million euros of public funding, said Streiff, but he could not find if they received any private funding. Every few years though, along came a good media-friendly trial to keep them afloat.

For Streiff, there was a conflict between UNADFI’s work supporting alleged victims of cults, training professionals in the issues raised by such groups, and its more militant campaigning role, as revealed during this trial.

“Much as I respect the work of UNADFI, this confusion of genres is not good for justice,” he said.

Nor was Sabine Jacquart the only person to have suffered discrimination, said Streiff. He reminded the court that they had heard from a Scientologist who had suffered discrimination in the workplace because of her devotion to Scientologist.

Maryvonne Legoux, a witness who testified for Jacquart, had won a case at France’s anti-discrimination body, le Halde, after having lost a post as a librarian due to her beliefs.[10]

“Madame Jacquart also has her beliefs,” said Streiff. “She believes that man is fundamentally good,” he adding, quoting one of the central tenets of Scientology.

But the prosecution was trying to open a Pandora’s Box that would release the thought police, he said.

“They are asking you to judge a religion,” he warned the judges. “And it is a real religion.”

It was true, he added, that to join the mainstream tradition of churches all it lacked was a few martyrs: “But I don’t think it is the job of this court to provide them.”

Streiff closed with a quotation from the New Testament: Matthew V, Verse 11.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
[1] Maître Metzner played a key role in the Lyon trial in the 1990s.
[2] Jean Carbonnier, (1908-2003) taught the sociology of law at Paris II University, was an acknowledged authority on French civil law and helped draft major reforms in family law in the 1960s and 1970s including the divorce laws. See a French-language thumbnail bio from academic publishers PUF here.
[3] This case related to the conviction of three senior French Scientologists and the founder, L. Ron Hubbard (in absentia) on fraud charges. This ruling found in favour of the one defendant to have appealed his conviction (not Hubbard).
[4] Article Nine, on Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, reads:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
[5] Article 19 of the ICCPR reads:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
[6] See here for a thumbnail bio of Professor Bouloc.
[7] Libération’s scoop, on September 9, 2008: “Scientologie: le document qui accuse” cited extracts from the indictment.
[8] L’Express, May 13, 2009, by François Koch. The cover story included an extended interview with former Alain Stoffen, who was just publishing a book on his experiences.
[9] A reminder: the court decided to reserve judgement on this application from UNADFI until October 27, when it delivers its verdict in the trial itself.
[10] Le Halde (Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les Discrimination et pour L’Egalité) is the High Authority against Discrimination and for Equality. English section of site here.

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