In defence of separation of the Churches and the State in France

mardi 3 août 2010
popularité : 1%

The separation of the Churches and the State is one of the institutional pillars of the French Republic. It is established by the law of December 9, 1905, whose first two articles are the following : "Article 1 : The Republic safeguards the freedom of conscience. It guarantees the free exercise of the cults under the sole after-mentioned restrictions in the interest of public order. Article 2 : The Republic does not recognise, nor salaries, nor subsidies any cult (…)"

This historical gain is one of the outmost achievements of the universal struggle to separate religions and the States, a battle which is generally national in its form but always international in its content. This law is inscribed in the principle of equality of all citizens, a principle established during the French Revolution in 1989-1793. Indeed, any official recognition or public subsidy to one religion, one philosophy, one community or to several ones, creates de facto a difference of rights between the citizens who belong to them and those who hold other opinions or beliefs. This equality in rights is also a condition to assure a real freedom of expression for all. In a separation regime, the State has no opinion on what the citizens believe. Secularism is based on the absence of established or recognised beliefs or philosophy. Concerning public education, since Condorcet it has been acknowledged that schoolchildren have a right a teaching based on science and the exercise of critical reason. Consequently, any religious or political indoctrination, whether active or passive, is or should be prohibited within public education.

Since 1905 and particularly recently, this situation has been under an all-out attack and in the first place by the French Government itself. This onslaught has two different and related origins :
-  A "market oriented" priority on all economical and social issues focuses all Government policy on cuts in labour cost, from which stem current onslaughts on pensions, social security, wages, employment, public services, etc. Consequently, republican gains are being targeted because they are the national and organised basis in defence of social gains. Therefore the onslaught aims at the very basis of the Republic : a difference in rights through "regionalisation", subordination of those rights to pre-established budgets (principle of subsidiarity), national sovereignty submitted to the Vatican European Union guidelines, etc. For the French Government, equality of rights -and even the very existence of those rights- is an obstacle to the implementation of EU guidelines. The separation adopted in 1905 is therefore in itself immediately at stake. - Before being implemented plans of social regression, brought into line at the European (or even global) level, based on the so-called necessity to respect the convergence criteria of the Maastricht Treaty, should be accompanied by a campaign of abandonment of rights, in order to prevent resistance. But the Churches, and notably the Roman Catholic Church, have a long experience in this field. They have to be associated to European and national institutions and therefore call into question the Separation so as to go toward some sort of Concordat. In addition, churches, and notably the dominant Church, have to be more and more associated to education, directly and indirectly.

The joint onslaught between the French Government, the Roman Catholic Church and their different allies is currently assuming the following forms : - Stigmatisation of a sector of the population in order to divide the front of resistance to the plans of regression. As usual, migrants are being targeted, and in the first place those coming (more or less recently) from countries with a Muslim majority. The case of the ban of burka-wearing or the recent "debate on national identity", initiated by the Minister of Immigration, during which the worst xenophobic horrors had a free hand, are parts of this process. A sector of the population has to be regarded as responsible of social-economic problems in order to protect banks and business circles and notably to divide the front of resistance against the counter-reform on pensions. Unfortunately, this is a well-known recipe.
-  Putting forward "Republican values". The French Government has decided that in order to be a French citizen, one has to agree with "the values of the Republic". Once again the point was to stigmatise and denounce the migrants. Actually, the difference between a Republic and a dictatorship is precisely that in a Republic freedom of expression is free for all, therefore those who are against "the values of the Republic" have the same rights as those who are in favour of them. In Republican France, royalists have the right to vote… What is required for citizens is to respect the laws, not to approve them…

A law banning the wearing of the burka and equivalent items of clothing -which concerns a tiny minority in the country, by the way- is currently debated in Parliament. Everything was voiced in the debate, including the argument that if those women choose to hide their faces, they should stay at home. In the name of integration, through the "values of the Republic" !

Let’s remind that in order to safeguard the freedom of expression, the institutional separation is between the Churches and the State, not between the Churches and society. Religious (or other) signs are prohibited for representatives of the state when they are in duty. But this is not the case for women wearing veils in the streets. An imaginary threat was invented concerning those women : they could hide weapons under their burkas. While surveillance of citizens by the state is already almost unbearable, more measures are added ; "Big Brother" is not far. Once again, what should be a difference between the French Republic and a Muslim dictatorship is the right to choose one’s clothes. Let’s remark the contradiction between the argument put forward in defence of women’s rights and the decisions made : constraint in the choice of clothes, fines in case of infringement of the law, even imprisonment…

Besides and in addition, we are witnessing a strengthening of the official role played by the Roman Catholic Church in French society. Here are a few examples :
-  More public funding for religious private schools. While 10 billion euros are given to the Vatican on a yearly basis through private Catholic schools, recently the Carle Law goes even further and aims at imposing on municipalities public funding to private schools outside the boundaries of the municipality. That beats everything !
-  Recognition of Catholic degrees. While according to a law of 1880 the state had the monopoly of delivering university degrees, an agreement between the French government and the Vatican, in line with the EU "process of Bologna", is going to grant the same rights to the Roman Catholic Church. And the question is more likely to extend this measure to other religions. The recognition of university degrees form protestant higher education was already announced by President Sarkozy, on May 27, 2010.

The French Libre Pensée defends and shall defend social gains, freedom of expression and institutional secularism. On June 19, it organised a rally at Paris in the Bois de Vincennes, at the very place where 50 years ago, on June 19, 1960, 300,000 secularists had gathered, bearing a petition with 11 million endorsers. They took the "oath of Vincennes" pledging that public money should go to public education, exclusively, and for the repeal of the anti-secularist Debre Law of December 1959. Marc Blondel, The President of the Libre Pensée, who participated in the 1960 rally, delivered a speech before 300 activists reminding the demands of the French National Federation :
-  Public money for public education, exclusively ;
-  Abrogation of all the anti-secularist laws ;
-  Defence and implementation of the 1905 separation law.

Roger LEPEIX French Libre Pensée


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6 October 2010 - NSS Bulletin autumn 2010

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