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Christians express alarm at French extremism Bill

19 March 2021

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The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, speaks at a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris, on 9 March

The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, speaks at a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris, on 9 March

CHRISTIAN leaders in France have voiced the fear that a government-backed draft Law against Separatism, passed by the National Assembly and due to come before the Senate on 30 March, will upset the country’s secular republican ethos by imposing undue limits on basic freedoms.

“The Republic signifies the ambition and promise that men and women can live together with equal rights and duties, regardless of family, ethnic, cultural or religious affiliations — we have all learned to live well within it,” leaders of the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches said in a joint appeal.

“But this draft law, whatever its intentions, risks undermining fundamental freedoms of worship, association, education and opinion, already abused by a thought police installing itself more and more in the public sphere.”

The church leaders were reacting to the draft law, which is expected to enforce new security and administrative curbs on religious communities and associations.

The church leaders “unreservedly welcomed” the provisions against forced marriages, sexual mutilation, inheritance inequalities, hate speech, and discrimination; but, they continued, the new measures threatened to “modify and transform as never before” the existing legal order, which had enabled France “to unite highly diverse men and women” through the “good and bad times of history”.

The appeal was co-signed by the French Catholic Bishops’ Conference president, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort; the chairman of the Protestant Federation, Pastor François Clavairoly; and France’s Orthodox Metropolitan, Emmanuel Adamakis.

Firmer measures have long been expected in an effort to contain Islamist militancy in France, where 12 people were massacred in January 2015 at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (News, 8 January 2015). Ninety people were killed and 200 were injured in co-ordinated attacks in Paris the following November.

In July 2016, a 75-year-old Roman Catholic priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, was murdered by Islamists (News, 29 July 2016); and a teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded last October outside his school (Comment, 6 November 2020).

The 54-article draft Law on Separatism, tabled in December by the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, is intended to “strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic” by compelling Muslim associations to comply with France’s 1905 law on Church-State separation, and empowering regional governors to compile fuller data on religious groups.

Official authorisation would be required for religious home-schooling, and the issuing of “virginity certificates” for Muslim brides would be outlawed.

Fears that the law endangered religious freedom were dismissed on Monday by the Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, who told the daily paper Le Figaro that the measure would enable a response to the country’s changing “cultural panorama”, notably the emergence of a “Muslim cult” and “identity separatism”.

In their appeal, however, the church leaders said that the 1905 law had been welcomed by minority faiths as reducing the RC Church’s “social control” and allowing citizens to practise their beliefs free of “state constraints”. “In a society with many social networks, it is essential to provide a framework and set rules,” the appeal noted.

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