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Thursday, September 9, 1999 Published at 20:05 GMT 21:05 UK

World: Europe

Scientology faces French ban

The Church claims several million members worldwide

France might consider banning the Church of Scientology, which it regards as a sect rather than a religion.

The Justice Minister, Elisabeth Guigou, made it clear that the future of the organisation in France was under close scrutiny.

Her remarks came as US officials expressed concern over the growing intolerance shown to minority religious groups in some European countries.

[ image: John Travolta is one of the group's high-profile followers]
John Travolta is one of the group's high-profile followers
Scientology, which was founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve human problems.

It is particularly popular among Hollywood stars - followers include John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

But it is treated with suspicion in Europe. Seven Scientologists are due to go on trial in southern France later this month after an investigation into alleged fraud, illegal practice of medicine and premeditated violence.

There have been several other cases in France's contentious relationship with the organisation.

In July the country's highest court ruled that it lacked the authority to decide whether Scientology was a sect or a religion.

The acquittals of eight members accused of corruption and theft were upheld.

[ image: Elisabeth Guigou: Ban a possibility]
Elisabeth Guigou: Ban a possibility
France registers Scientology as one of dozens of groups that should be tracked to prevent cult activities.

Justice Minister Guigou said on Thursday: "Sects, and this one in particular, are extremely powerful. I think they should be prevented from doing any harm."

In the United States, the Church of Scientology is regarded as a religion.

However, a global report on religious freedom by the State Department said the group continued to report discrimination and harassment in some European countries.

In some cases it was viewed as an economic enterprise. In Germany, said the report, officials had decribed it as a criminal organisation.

The State Department said that asking people and companies whether they had associations with the group was an abuse of human rights.

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