June 20, 2007
(Strasbourg, France)- In ECLJ’s continuing efforts to protect religious freedoms in France against discriminatory application of the Sect law, the Strasbourg based law firm has brought another suit at the European Court of Human Rights challenging the law. The case involves an Evangelical missionary church in Besancon, France which has been the victim of ten years of legal and administrative difficulties caused by the church’s placement on the country’s Sect list despite its established reputation in the community and recognition by the Protestant Federation of France.
The church had existed peacefully for 30 years in accordance with its recognized legal status as a religious association. However, in 1995, the group was placed on a Parliamentary sect report and as a result faced tremendous administrative scrutiny including three separate tax assessments. The assessments were made based on the allegation that the church ceased to be a tax-exempt organization resulting from its loss of status as a recognized religious organization from its being placed on the sect list. The total reassessment of the taxes amounted to over 500, 000 Euros. Judgements based on the three assessments were mixed, with only one of the courts upholding their assessment, while the other two recognized the association status of the church and applied the exemption. The association was able to survive this ordeal, but at the cost of substantial prejudice that was both material (sales of property and borrowing) and moral (reputation). The entire procedure lasted more than ten years.
ECLJ’s claim before the European Court of Human Rights is that both the material and moral damage done to the Besancon church were the direct result of misapplication of the French Sect law, a weapon becoming more frequently yielded by French authorities to attack Evangelical Christian churches.
In its other pending case before the European Court of Human Rights regarding the Sect law, ECLJ is expecting a judgement on July 26. We will keep you abreast of the results in both cases.