Anti-cult law in France: Washington concerned

WASHINGTON – Leading american official Michael Parmly expressed his "concern" Tuesday during a hearing to the Senate about a French private bill which would threaten, according to Washington, freedom of religion in France.

" We are worried by the language (contained in this bill " About-Picard ") which is dangerously ambiguous and which could be used against justifiable religious associations, as religious schools, seminars, convents or pensions ", Michael Parmly declared in front of a subcommittee of the Senate. He is the American Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Human Rights, democracy and labor.

According to him, this bill, which would authorize for example the possibility to dissolve sects accused of penal condemnations, will be examined by the French Senate on May 3. It was already adopted by the National Assembly last June.

" We are going to follow the affair closely " he said, by emphasizing that the American Embassy in Paris is actively working on this subject.

More widely, the high official worried about a growing religious discrimination in Western Europe, and he questioned "practices targeting religious sects in Austria and in Belgium, as well as in France " which could spread widely in the other European countries, notably in the Eastern Europe.

He noted that Members of Parliament of the Council of Europe asked, on April 26, to the Senate to delay the exam of the bill About-Picard, from the name of its two writers, Nicolas About for the Senate and Catherine Picard ( PS) for the National Assembly.

Mr Parmly also brought up the case of Belgium and its list of 189 "sects".

"This list would shock many Americans" if they had knowledge of it, commented the republican senator Gordon Smith, during the hearing, he denounced" a tendency in certain European countries to target in a discriminatory way religious organizations ".

This list mentions the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons and the Amish, according to Senator Gordon Smith.

Washington is "also worried by discriminatory practices in Germany, targeting the Church of Scientology ", stated Mr Parmly.

The House of Representatives, with republican majority, adopted last September a resolution denouncing the practice of religious discrimination in Western Europe, often denounced in United States.

On Monday, an American federal committee commission on freedom of religion called, in its annual report, for the Bush administration to boost its fight against religious repression in the world, quoting also abuses in China, in India, in Vietnam and in Sudan.