Directorate-General for Research
People's Europe Series


Cults in France  


Summary of the report of the French National Assembly Committee of Inquiry on Cults - adopted unanimously by the committee in December 1995.

All studies on 'cults' recognize that it is difficult to define the term 'cults' because the phenomenon is difficult to identify.

(1) The concept of a 'cult' is unknown in French law

This absence of a legal definition is a consequence of the French concept of secularity, as the Declaration of Human Rights and the French Constitution guarantee that all citizens are equal before the law regardless of origin, race or religion, while respecting all beliefs and the neutrality of the State.

The principle of neutrality of the State means that the State does not interfere in religious beliefs, subject to restrictions concerned with respect for public order.

(2) The concept adopted by the Committee of Inquiry

The difficulty of defining the concept of a cult led the Committee of Inquiry to adopt a package of criteria of 'potential for danger', while being aware that each of these criteria is debatable.

The criteria are those used by the 'Renseignements généraux' (1) in their analysis of the 'cult phenomenon'.

The criteria are:

Any attempt at a global assessment of the 'cult phenomenon' comes up against a number of difficulties in connection with:

According to the French 'Renseignements Généraux', the number of movements counted which meet one of the criteria of potential danger indicated above is 172 for main organizations and 800 including branches. The number of devotees - very difficult to quantify - varies around 160 000, the number of sympathisers around 100 000.

(3) New trends appearing over the last ten years

Until the early 1970s, warnings against cults issued primarily from the churches, but the excesses of some organizations have helped to bring about a radical change in the way they are perceived. There is evidence for this phenomenon in the creation of protection associations and a relatively large number of court cases. The serious criminal activities of some cults (attacks, mass suicides and assassinations) has shaken public opinion.

(4) Identifying dangerous practices

It is impossible to say whether these dangers have increased over the past ten years.

(5) The need for a pragmatic response

French law provides various means to counteract the various deviations of certain 'cult movements'. The conclusion has to be drawn, however, that these means are only rarely employed.

A radical reform therefore does not seem desirable. To be effective, the instrument to combat the dangers of cults should include three elements:

(6) Increased international cooperation

Increased international and Community cooperation is essential:

The Committee of Inquiry regrets that the European Union seems to be taking no action in this area.

It proposes that intergovernmental cooperation be introduced, based on an exchange of information, particularly through a databank; that control measures be coordinated, taking account of differences in judicial systems; that searches for people wanted by the courts or by the administration and searches for missing persons be conducted.

Numbers of devotees of cults in 1995

Name of the CultDevotees
Universal Alliance2 000
Antonines200 000
Christian Community80 000
Church of Christ, Scientist480 000
Neo-Apostolic Church7 187 000
Universal Church of God100 000
The Family (formerly Children of God)12 000
Krishna80 000
Mahikari-Sukyo Mahikari500 000
TM Transcendental Meditation3 500 000
Moonies or Association of the Holy Spirit for World Unification180 000
Mormons or Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints8 406 985
The Grail Movement9 000
The Raelian Movement20 000
Scientology11 000 000
Sokka Gakkai+Nichiren Soshu17 000 000

Source: UNADFI, France


(1) From about 40 general information officers spread throughout France, the Interior Ministry gathers information on the establishment of cults, their members and their activities.

| Editor |

© European Parliament: 03/1997