With the amount of young people attending the Lacanau Pro surfing competition, the event’s organizers thought that it would be the perfect place to spread information about the dangers of drugs.
Accordingly, the anti-drug association “Non à la drogue, oui à la vie” (No to drugs, yes to life) was granted permission to set up a stall at the event, where members would hand out notices to people about narcotics and get them to sign petitions.
However, two days into the competition, which runs from August 13th to 23rd, the organizers noticed that the stall was not all that it seemed.
After being alerted to some of the conversations taking place at the stall, the organizers reportedly realized that the association was in fact financed by the Church of Scientology.
“They were converting. We were fooled, misled,” a spokesperson for the surfing competition was quoted as saying by Le Parisien.
Pierre Braun, director of communication for the town of Lacanau, also said he had been misled.
“We made an agreement in principle with them to use the public highway to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs, but despite the usual precautions we realized that they were hiding something,” he told the paper.
The stand was finally moved from the event on Sunday.
This isn’t the first time Scientology has come under the spotlight in France, where it is considered to be a sect.
In 2013, France’s highest appeals court, the Cour de Cassation, rejected an appeal by the Church of Scientology against several convictions for “organized fraud”.
The Church had argued in an earlier hearing that year that the verdicts constituted a violation of their religious liberty, but the court rejected that claim.
Speaking to The Local at the time, a representative from the Church said that the ruling was tantamount to “religious persecution” by France.
While the Church is considered as a religion in the US where it was founded in 1954 by science-fiction author Ron Hubbard, it has classed as a “sect” in France since a parliamentary report in 1995.
In France alone the Church of Scientology counts some 45,000 followers, and 12 million worldwide, according to Le Parisien.