Podcast "Les Fils d'Issacar": Clichy sous-bois, the limits of French secularism

Hello everyone, I am Etienne OMNES, it is Saturday November 18, and you are listening to an episode of Les Fils d 'Issacar, the current Christian commentary podcast.

Lhe news of the week is based on a topic that is important to our society, but downright vital for evangelicals. This is the subject of secularism, which for evangelical Protestants means nothing other than "the right to exist in society". Because of the very bloody wars of religion and the constantly renewed political maneuvers, the Protestants had to disappear completely from French society. If the law of 1905 was a great pain for the Catholics, it was on the other hand a joy and a relief for the Protestants, and particularly the Evangelical Protestants, who finally had no more to fear that the State does not come to put its nose in the management of religions in France. Except that the arrival of Islam on the public scene fails to upset this fragile balance.

Clichy sous-bois: the limits of French secularism

It all started in Clichy sous Bois: the Muslim community of Clichy there benefited from a building provided by the town hall whose lease expired last February. The municipal elections having passed, the new mayor of Clichy, René Muzeau des Républicains, terminated the lease on rue Estienne-d'Orves, took over the building to turn it into a media library. Instead, he made another room available, with a 99-year lease, which makes Muslim worship associations quasi-owners of this new prayer room.

Problem: they are not satisfied with the room, stressing in particular that it is too small and badly placed. In protest, the Muslims of this city have therefore been doing their Friday prayers in the street, every week for eight months, in order to put pressure on elected officials.

Last Friday things turned out differently : a counter-demonstration of a hundred republican elected officials hampered the progress of this prayer. Considering the profile of the demonstrators - deputies, elected officials etc… - the affair obviously made the headlines, not without enormous tensions at the time. As I write these lines, The Union of Muslim Associations of Clichy (UAMC) filed a complaint against X for aggravated violence, and against the mayor for defamation and incitement to racial hatred - the usual complaint when criticized.

It is not only Muslims who have been highlighted: associations like Force Laïque - a group of militant atheists - took the opportunity to sow confusion on the true meaning of secularism, saying in essence that any religious manifestation in the public space is illegal and illegitimate, as if secularism were state atheism. To these, I suggest that since they are trying to erase all marks of religious fact from the landscape, why don't they cut down all the plane trees in France? Trees are objects of worship among the pagans, so let them suppress all trees!

Since the efforts of the CNEF and the success of the “Free to Say It” campaign, we as evangelicals widely know that this secularism synonymous with atheism is not that of the law of 1905, which today regulates our religious life. The goal of 1905 was not to suppress religion from the public space, but to suppress the intervention of the public force in the religious space. It is a protection of religions against the State, in exchange for its religious neutrality. Religious neutrality, which I stress, does not extend, cannot extend to the public space - street, square, schools… -.

Thus the law of 1905 says:

The Republic guarantees the free exercise of worship. - Article 1

The Republic does not recognize, pay or subsidize any religion. - Article 2

As evangelicals, we have a strong tradition of complete independence from the state, and we prefer freedom to financial security. Also this law, which is of course perfectible and which sometimes hinders us, remains something to which we are attached ... as long as secularism is not synonymous with state atheism, once again. It is the best possible compromise here below on the words of Jesus:

"Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and what is God 's to God"

But this balanced understanding is called into question by the arrival on the French religious scene of Islam, which does not have this understanding of the distinction between religion and state. It would not be such a big problem if some mayors had not decided to understand very closely "the Republic does not subsidize any religion". How to qualify, in fact, a mayor who gives a very advantageous lease to a Muslim religious association? I'm waiting to see the day when the mayor of a big city will give an almost free 99-year lease to an evangelical church ...

And alongside laxity, there are mayors who interpret too broadly the "neither recognizes nor subsidizes any cult". The CNEF regularly relays stories of mayors who refuse evangelical church plantings for fear of having to subsequently authorize a Muslim place of worship, even if there are no Muslims in this city.

In Clichy, the mayor seems rather guilty of having confused political affairs and religious affairs, against the very principle of secularism. By intervening so heavily in the real estate affairs of the Muslims of Clichy, he transformed a religious actor into a political actor, and he is astonished to see religious now taking a political step. So in return, he called a political rally which to some had a religious odor. Do you find that confusing? I think everyone has that impression.

In the debates that followed, faithful to the French tradition of nuance and subtlety that characterizes us, two camps that were monolithic and insulting each other emerged. On the one hand, those who would like to suppress religion not only from the state but also from public space, ready to climb the highest mountains to unseal the crosses that have been installed on them. Let us think in particular of the cross of Ploërmel in Brittany, of which local atheists have finally obtained the unsealing.

On the other, supporters of a complete permissiveness of any religious expression in public space, even the most invasive, even the most demanding. This is a problem when you consider Islamic theology and - dare we say it - their missiology. Unlike Christianity, Islam sets itself the explicit goal of dominating the public space of a country in order to carry out the commandments of God, and this kind of public demonstration and continual demands for concessions are part of a certain philosophy of the mission, which ultimately threatens the balance or even the existence of other religions in France.

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In such situations, the temptation is very often to make new laws, as against the Islamic veil in 2004, or the bills against the burkini last year. This temptation must be fought: First, it reinforces a tendency that we already have far too much in our society: the less power we have, the more we make laws. Law that one then gives up to apply for lack of means, or quite simply of courage. These new laws are ultimately just a festival of postures without a future, which in the long term discredits the authority of the state.

Second, considering the passionate and furious climate of our time, it is just a terrible idea to want to change the current religious balance. Either we will obtain a text which will give domination to the State to the detriment of religions, a state atheism this time fully incorporated into the Republic ... Or we will obtain a text which will introduce a kind of "everyone wants to take their place ”on the French religious scene, where the Evangelicals would very quickly find themselves dominated either by Catholicism or by Islam.

Rather than drawing new laws that will kill freedom, our interest is rather to safeguard the existing balance, however uncomfortable it may be. Evangelicals remain an ultra-minority, and we need both to have our state guaranteed right to exist, and to have our complete independence from the state. This is what is currently acquired by the law of 1905, when it is correctly interpreted.

And at the same time we must guard against false interpretations. You will end up believing that I am paid by the CNEF but… what I just exposed is the line of the CNEF, and I see no reason not to support them on that. We cannot do political or spectacular actions like street prayers, but we can do something much more powerful: prayer. With your permission, I'd like to get the ball rolling:

Lord, maintain the delicate balance in our country, which no one rules over no one.

Father, give wisdom to our rulers, that they lead and apply secularism with justice and equality.

Lord still give us enough peace for your Kingdom to progress.

Thank you for listening to Les Fils d'Issacar, if you liked it, please visit our Facebook page “Les Fils d'Issacar” and subscribe. If you enjoyed it, please share it. You can also find me on phileosophiablog.wordpress.com

I give you an appointment next week for an episode presented by Timothée Davi. Have a good week.

Timothy Davi

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