In early summer the French Parliament passed anti-sect legislation that some evangelicals and members of other religious minorities fear could restrict their freedoms. This legislation is a far cry from Louis XIV's revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, but it does raise questions about France's religious climate. To get a clear picture of the situation, Christian History contacted Sébastien Fath, a social scientist with France's National Center of Scientific Research and teacher at the Sorbonne University in Paris.

Why is France, a country that prides itself on pluralism and tolerance, suddenly suspicious of religious minorities?

Generally speaking, pluralism has never been so present in the French society. The challenge is learning to live together in a more and more plural society. The State has tried to adapt itself, but it isn't sure of its way yet. The local management of pluralism has its difficulties, too, but on the whole religious freedom is fully respected. Evangelicals, among other religious minorities, are very satisfied with it.

At the same time, though, French society reacts very strongly to the issue of cults and sects. The public was shocked by the collective suicides of the Solar Temple Order that occurred in Switzerland, Canada, and France in 1994 and 1995, when 78 people died. Also, France's political culture traditionally legitimates state intervention when social order seems threatened. Because the pluralistic society in France is less established than it is in America, cults and sects seem like a bigger threat. These elements explain why this law was voted in Parliament.

Is it fair to call France's anti-sect initiatives "religious persecution"?

The new legislation contains nothing related to "religious ...

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