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France OKs Scientology Acquittals

July 1, 1999 GMT

PARIS (AP) _ France’s highest court has upheld the acquittal of nine members of the Church of Scientology accused of corruption and theft, ruling it lacks the authority to decide whether Scientology is a religion.

In 1997, the nine church members were acquitted by an appeals court in the southeastern city of Lyon which ruled that they had been convicted without sufficient evidence.

Prosecutors had argued the church was a sect that defrauded people of their money. The defense had argued it was a legitimate religion with the right to ask members for money.


The 1997 ruling also said that the Church of Scientology, which is classified as a sect in France, should be referred to as a religion. A state prosecutor appealed the ruling.

France’s Court of Cassation said Wednesday it could not rule on that matter of the status of the church.

In a statement, the Church of Scientology said Wednesday’s ruling ``means that practicing scientology is perfectly legal.″

France registers the church on a list of 173 groups that should be tracked to prevent cult activities. Most other European countries also don’t accept it as a religion.

Founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los Angeles-based organization teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve human problems.

Pressure has mounted on the French government to track some religious groups since Dec. 16, 1995, when 16 members of the Swiss-based Order of the Solar Temple died in a murder-suicide in eastern France.