The regulation provides fines and jail time for "mental manipulation" and laying on of hands for healing

A proposed law in France that is under review by Parliament has evangelical pastors worried they could be fined thousands of francs and even jailed for simple acts of evangelism and ministry, including the laying on of hands.

Fears of cult activity began to swell in France after the 1995 mass cult suicide of a sect in the Swiss Alps, in which the son of a famous French designer died. The bill being considered, if passed into law, could make the evangelizing of youth, including distribution of tracts, punishable by a fine of 50,000 francs ($6,711). The law includes several other provisions for fines and imprisonment for various offenses.

"We have a growing outreach to youth, and the government really doesn't like when young people start getting radically saved, having radical personality changes," said Robert Baxter, an American and pastor of Assemblée Chrétienne du Bon Berger (Christian Assembly of the Good Shepherd), in Saint-Denis, near Paris.

"My law does not control the practices of the churches," countered Catherine Picard, the member of French Parliament's National Assembly who authored the proposed law. "If a it a group of citizens, a political group, a pseudo-religious group obliges someone under pressure to do something, it is condemned," she said. "But it isn't only cults. There can be other groups. We cannot define a cult because even the religions don't exist by law."

Laying on of hands for healing is considered "an illegal exercise of medicine," Picard said, and is punishable under the proposed law.

Picard is confident that her bill will become law in France by June. The bill unanimously passed in the National Assembly, as it did first in the Senate.

A bill of this nature is supported by 70 percent of the French people, who are perturbed with recent cult activity, Picard says. Church leaders say that statement is an exaggeration and that cult activity in France is minimal at best.

The proposed bill also criminalizes "mental manipulation" with a sentence of three years in prison and a fine of 300,000 francs ($40,268). Mental manipulation is determined if a leader's "object or effect is to create or exploit the psychological or physical dependence of persons" or to use pressure "to drive one, against one's will or not, to an act or to an abstention which is seriously damaging."

The penalty increases to five years in prison and a fine of 500,000 francs ($67,114) when the victim is young, elderly, sick, handicapped or pregnant.

Some French pastors are concerned that the proposed law's vague text will enable opponents of the evangelical church to legally persecute Christians. The law would make France "the country with the strongest anti-religious laws in the Western world," Baxter said.

Defining a cult is difficult, admits both Picard and a spokesperson for the French Ministry of Justice. However, in 1995 the government issued a report on cults and listed them by name. Two that made the list are led by friends of Baxter's.

"What is scary for us, as pastors, is that any conviction of the Holy Spirit in someone's heart can be seen as mental manipulation," said Marc Le Brun, pastor of Christ Lumière des Nations (Christ Light of the Nations; CLN), in Eragny.

CLN and Bon Berger are not recognized by the French Protestant Federation because they do not belong to a federation of churches. As religious associations, these churches can hold services, but they do not have the official church status given by the Interior Ministry to Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist religions. Baxter said that status is not a protection, but it makes it easier for churches when dealing with the government.

One reason most Pentecostal groups have been suspected by the state as being something other than Protestant is because they've never been recognized by the Protestant Federation, Baxter said. Le Brun doesn't believe the government wants to persecute the church.

"France has [less than 1 percent] born-again Christians," he said. "There is a state of mind in France which is against God. The people don't know what the church is. They just make laws to try to protect people.

"I think the devil is using that law to make it difficult for the church. I don't think, in general, that the French government is against the church. I believe we are in a free country, but it's a spiritual war."

Baxter said that if the law passes, a high-profile legal fight over freedom of religion by a well-balanced, Spirit-filled church might do the body of Christ in France good because it would draw international attention that would bring lasting changes.

"Do I want to be the guy to do it? Absolutely not," Baxter quipped. "I wouldn't wish that on anybody."

--Michèle White in France

Draw closer to God. Experience the presence of the Holy Spirit every month as you read Charisma magazine. Sign up now to get Charisma for as low as $1 per issue.

Get to know the Holy Spirit and how to interact with Him on a daily basis. Learn to enter God's presence and hear His voice clearly for yourself! Go deeper in your faith with Life in the Spirit and change your life and destiny. Are you ready to start your journey?

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
View/Add Comments
  • There are some ways the Holy Spirit will never lead you.

    4 Ways the Holy Spirit Does Not Lead You—and 1 Big Danger

    Wrong teaching, ignorance, laziness and a failure of the five-fold to equip the saints for the work ...

  • Chuck Pierce

    Prophetic Word: 'The Winds of Heaven Are Now Entering the Earth'

    Chuck Pierce says we need to brace ourselves.

  • What if You Could Save $500 This Week?

    What if You Could Save $500 This Week?

    Start saving for emergencies today with the $500 Savings Challenge by brightpeak financial. It's chock-full of inspiration, great savings tips and the motivation to make a dent in your savings—for real! Go to to sign up!

  • Lee's ministry photo

    10 Ways to Pray for a Troubled America

    God is always willing to rescue His people if they pray.

  • Hillary Clinton

    What if Hillary Clinton Wins the White House?

    Polls have Mrs. Clinton leading by 11 points. The church must be prepared.

  • Low-Rate Church Loans Available!

    Low-Rate Church Loans Available!

    Whether it's purchasing a property, remodeling or refinancing, Christian Community Credit Union has a loan package that's customized for your budget and situation.

  • Holy Spirit prophetic

    7 Ways to Cultivate Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit

    Too many of God's people are led by fear, doubt, man-pleasing, presumption, assumption, idols ...

  • God doesn't usually shout, so you should listen carefully.

    What Happens When You Actually Listen to God

    It will surprise—and most likely shock—you.

  • Is there any unconfessed sin in your life?

    Scripture Says Pain, Health and Sin Share This Unexpected Connection

    If you're experiencing chronic pain, this may offer you the answer you need.

  • Guarding the gates of your heart will keep the demonic and evil out of your life.

    Keep the Demonic Out of Your Life With This Oft-Overlooked Spiritual Warfare Strategy

    The enemy knows his limitations. Limit him.

  • Continue Your Journey with the Holy Spirit

    Continue Your Journey with the Holy Spirit

    Follow God on the most fulfilling journey of your life with Encounter the Holy Spirit! Break away from past hurts and press into the One who wants a personal encounter with you.

  • Dream the Unimaginable In His Presence

    Dream the Unimaginable In His Presence

    Reach your full potential and be led by His Spirit. In His Presence takes you to a deeper understanding of who God is and how he communicates with us.

  • Set Your Spirit on Fire

    Set Your Spirit on Fire

    Receive the power and gifts that come through the Holy Spirit Baptism. Don’t go empty-handed; accept all that He has for you! His power is available to those who ask.

  • Put on the Full Armor of God

    Put on the Full Armor of God

    Break every stronghold with the power of the Holy Spirit. Use the power of your tongue to declare and decree the Word of God. Witness heaven move on your behalf.

Use Desktop Layout
Charisma Magazine — Empowering believers for life in the Spirit