Jehovah’s Witnesses obtained legal status in France in 1906, and they generally enjoy religious freedom. However, in the mid-1990’s a parliamentary report entitled “Sects in France” included Jehovah’s Witnesses on a list of allegedly dangerous sects. Despite having no legal effect, the report was used to target the Witnesses, triggering a period of public stigmatization and discrimination.
In its most flagrant attack, the government imposed an exorbitant tax on donations in an effort to cause the financial collapse of the Witnesses’ national headquarters. After 16 years of legal battles, on June 30, 2011, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled that the French government had violated the Witnesses’ religious freedom. Jehovah’s Witnesses have fought discrimination in other cases in France, waging legal battles against refusals to issue building permits and chaplain certificates as well as refusals to rent municipal halls for religious services.
The government stigmatization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France has engendered a climate of suspicion that persists in spite of the ECHR judgment and the numerous legal victories before domestic courts. As a result, there are still many incidents in which the Witnesses are physically assaulted and harassed and their places of worship vandalized.