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France and "cults": a new orientation - Interview with Jean-Louis Langlais

On March 3 in Paris, Compass Direct met with Jean-Louis Langlais, president of the Inter-ministerial Mission for Vigilance and Fight against Sectarian Deviances (MIVILUDES), a task force created by government decree in France on November 28, 2002, to replace the Inter-ministerial Mission for the Fight Against Sects (MILS). In recent years, France has been both admired and vilified for its “anti-sect” legislation. Some feared that legitimate Christian organizations could suffer because of the increased vigilance against “sects.”

Compass Direct: At the end of last year, the Inter-ministerial Mission for Vigilance and Fight against Sectarian Deviances was established. What do you mean personally by “sectarian deviances,” and is there an official definition?


Jean-Louis Langlais: The change of the title reflects a re-orientation or shift in the spirit of the law. It is no longer a question of fighting against sectarian movements but against sectarian deviances. As you know, of course, in actual French law there is no definition of a sect and, therefore, the law cannot define sectarian deviances. The law targets, however, all criminal behavior, or practice that is likely to be placed under the inspection of a judge where the victim has been placed in a position of subjugation representing a real danger for that person.


Compass: By deviances, do you just mean illegal acts?


Langlais: This is a difficult issue, but it is surely legitimate to suggest that there is a role for vigilance to be made during the time before a criminal offense has been committed. I hope that, within the framework of MIVILUDES, we will work on this notion in liaison with the relevant magistrates. 


Compass: So, will this concept be defined by MIVILUDES?


Langlais: I would not be so presumptuous to consider that, but we wish to contribute to defining what could simply be an administrative jurisprudence, if I can risk this phrase. The legislator endeavored to do this in the About-Picard Law, complementing the notion of the abuse of the weak and adding psychological or physical subjugation as well. From now on, the law provides for the possibility of legally dissolving an organization that has already been convicted twice. Whatever happens, it will be up to the judge to decide. And as you know, we do not have jurisprudence from this legislation yet, which itself only dates from 2001.


Compass: Do you think that sectarian deviances can only be committed by religious or philosophical groups, as the MILS thought?


Langlais: I do not know whether the MILS had the concern you raise. In any case, if a group advocated or used dangerous medicine, we would have the responsibility to denounce the wrongdoing. The dangers of deviation are just as real in this field as in the field of certain so-called “personal development” practices that have no religious connotation.


Compass: What is the structure of the MIVILUDES?


Langlais: We have in fact three structures. The first consists of a permanent team of 10 people who work under the direction of the secretary general. They come from various ministries. The second structure is called the executive committee. It is also inter-ministerial but not permanent. I must meet with the members at least every two months. There we have two or three representatives of the major ministries such as the Ministries of the Interior, Justice, National Education, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Social Affairs. The third body is the orientation council which will soon be set up and which will comprise 30 or so representatives of political and civil society.


Compass: What will be the structure and the legal basis of the orientation council?


Langlais: The legal basis is the decree creating the MIVILUDES, and the modalities were decided by the Cabinet of the Prime Minister under whose authority we are placed. A quarter of the members will be deputies and senators from various political horizons, appointed by both assemblies. A second quarter will consist of representatives of family protection associations, of parent-teacher associations and of those fighting against sectarian deviances. A third quarter consists of prominent academics: a wide range of sociologists, psychologists, historians, not necessarily specialized in these matters but able to have a broad view. The last quarter will comprise prominent people from the world of economics and administration, for example from the Council of State or economic and social councils. The mission of the orientation council is notably to help the president to reflect on developments, major trends and strategies. The president of the MIVILUDES is the president of each of these three bodies. The secretary general of the mission is a magistrate. Our mandate is for three years.


Compass: What is your plan of action?


Langlais: We wish to modernize our system of information dissemination and to start a website. We want to increase assistance to families who claim to be victims of sects. Minors will be given priority in our vigilance so that their adult lives will not be affected by social, psychological or sexual handicaps. We would also like academics to become interested in this issue and to help us identify the problems related to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. I am thinking of a seminar that would facilitate the exchange of expertise and research on these topics, which are still little explored. 


Compass: Do you plan to encourage research and study on specific religious groups and to post them on your website?

Langlais: Without hesitation, no. I was not thinking of this sort of information. I do not have the intention of creating files describing religious movements. It appears to me very difficult to remain objective, particularly in our secular context of separation between church and state.

Copyright 2003 Compass Direct

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