Apparently the French have less tolerance for financially exploitative religious institutions than we do. A Paris court today convicted the French branch of the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology of fraud, says the Associated Press. The church's French office was fined more than $900,000 for demanding way too much money from its members and the "commercial harassment" of recruits.
The case was brought by a woman who was recruited to join the Church of Scientology, which is headquartered on Hollywood Boulevard. The woman subsequently spent $30,000 on books, classes and "purification packages." When she later wanted to leave the organization and asked to be reimbursed, the church refused. A judge found that that church officials profited handsomely while this woman and others were essentially made financial servants of Scientology.
It's not the first time L. Ron Hubbard's brainchild has been embattled in the courts. In fact, Scientology -- which was founded 55 years ago -- has had plenty of run-ins with the law, both here and abroad.
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Judges in Canada, the U.K. and France have convicted Scientology officials of various forms of deceit and harassment. The church has also prevailed in plenty of legal battles. Two years ago the European Court of Human Rights overruled a Russian judge's attempt to block Scientology from being recognized as a religion.
A Scientology spokesperson called today's ruling in France a modern-day "Inquisition," according to the AP.
Back here in Los Angeles, Scientology remains a lightning rod of controversy. On the one hand, it's the object party jokes and genuine scrutiny for its apparent obsession with financial gain and its practice of courting the wealthy and famous. Some even raised the question of whether the church's aggressive recruitment played a role in the mysterious double suicide of fast-rising L.A. artist couple Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan.