STRASBOURG, France, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The French government must pay penalties to two religious sects for forcing them to pay taxes, the European Court of Human Rights says.
The court set the total damages at 4 million euros ($5.5 million), Radio France Internationale reported Friday. The bulk of the money goes to the Aumism cult founded by Gilbert Bourdin, the "Cosmoplanetary Messiah of Synthesis," with the rest awarded to the Evangelical Missionary Church of Besancon, a Pentecostal group founded in 1963.
Bourdin's followers challenged the taxation of 2.54 million euros ($3.49 million) raised to build temples in Mandarom, the group's "holy city" in the French Alps. Bourdin, who died in 1998, had studied eastern religions before proclaiming a faith that was synthesized from many others.
The Evangelical Church was taxed on 280,000 euros ($380,000) in contributions.
The Jehovah's Witnesses also won a favorable decision from the European court after arguing the French government was trying to tax the religion out of existence.
Catherine Picard, a former Socialist member of Parliament who has become an advocate against what she considers religious cults, said Thursday the court has made it almost impossible to bring them under control.
"These groups know that, whatever they do, whatever sectarian excesses they get up to, the European court will back them up," she said.