A French court has given a 10-month suspended prison sentence but no jail time to two men who burst into a convent and told nuns they must convert to Islam or go to Hell.
"There is no link between your actions and terrorism," the court told the 26 and 28-year-old defendants, who weren't named. "The terms and expressions used, while they had the effect of disturbing the sisters, are not specific to radical discourse nor were they intended to frighten."
The incident occurred on Nov. 10, 2017, when the two men rang the doorbell and told the Carmelite convent that they wanted to "discuss religion."
Sister Marie-Josephe of the convent explained that once they were allowed inside, one of the men said that "Islam corrects the teachings that Christianity has distorted."
The nun told them at the time that she disagrees with their statement, after which they strode forward and disrupted the evening service.
The elder man admitted in court that he approached Sister Marie-Josephe during the service and told her: "If you do not convert, you will go to Hell."
The nuns said they felt terrorized by the threats, given the rise of Islamic attacks in France and Western Europe the past few years. Although the younger of the defendants admitted they shouldn't have made the remarks, the court decided against sending them to jail.
While France is a traditionally Roman Catholic country, it has seen a changing religious demographic due to the rise of secularism and the influx of Muslim migrants from Algeria and the Middle East.
A major report released by academics from St. Mary's University, Twickenham, and the Institut Catholique de Paris last month listed France as being among the top 10 least-religious countries when it comes to 16–29-year-olds across 22 European countries.
Extremist factions, such as the Islamic State terror group, have carried out a number of attacks in the country, including the shocking murder of an elderly priest in his church near Rouen in July 2016.
The murder of 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at the hands of two young IS supporters sent out alarms across the Christian community.
Sister Danielle, one of the nuns at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray who witnessed the murder, revealed that the men forced the priest down on his knees.
"In the church, everyone screamed 'Stop, you don't know what you're doing.' They didn't stop. They forced him to his knees; he tried to defend himself, and it was then that the drama began," Danielle recalled.
"They recorded themselves (on video). They did a little — like a sermon — around the altar in Arabic. It was a horror."