So Scientology is on trial again–this time in France, and this time for fraud. It
seems that a woman who took a free “personality test” was then sold a bill of goods in the form of vitamins, books, and dubious “cures” for psychological problems–to the tune of almost $30K.
The defense is making the case that the plaintiff joined the group of her own free will, and so, if there was no coercion, there was no fraud.
As the BBC reports it:
The woman at the centre of this case says she was approached by church members in Paris more than 10 years ago, and offered a free personality test. But, she says, she ended up spending 21,000 euros ($29,400, £18,400) on lessons, books and medicines she was told would cure her poor mental state.
Her lawyers are arguing that the church systematically seeks to make money by means of mental pressure and the use of scientifically dubious “cures”.
The question is, what constitutes coercion? Was she free to tell the Scientologists no, to walk out without paying a red cent–or at least stop paying one more red cent after a trial run of the putative cure? Or did Scientologists threaten her with a harassment campaign if she didn’t keep coughing up the cash?
But, if the plaintiff was merely taken in by what Scientologists may sincerely have believed was a wonder cure for various mental debilities (as hard as that may be for us to believe), then it could be argued that she alone is responsible for her weak will or gullibility.
Let’s translate this into more familiar language: Say a financially distressed someone is repeatedly invited to attend a local nondenominational church that is big on the prosperity gospel. Everyone’s friendly as can be, and the newbie is told that this church has the answers to her nagging problems.
She is taught repeatedly and emphatically that giving 10% of one’s gross income to the church is absolutely necessary to experience God’s blessings, and the fact that anyone remains unemployed or in debt is due directly to the fact that he or she is robbing God.
So, out of hope, fear, or guilt, the person forks over the tithe Sunday after Sunday. And nothing changes. Nothing. Still unemployed. Still in debt. In fact, the loss of the 10% is making the congregant’s financial situation worse. When she tries to get some counseling from the pastor, perhaps even express doubts as to the validity of his teaching, she’s told that she must continue to give and that God will provide in his own time, and that if she stops–or worse, leaves the church–the wrath of God will abide on her.
Can she sue for fraud?