France’s interior minister sparked anger among the growing evangelical communities in the country earlier this month when he claimed on a popular news show that “Evangelicals are a very important problem” on par with radical Islam.
Gérald Darmanin, who is in charge of policing and internal security but also of “worship” and relations with faith communities, added that the problem is “obviously not of the same nature as that of Islamism that causes terrorist attacks and deaths.”
One day earlier, on February 1, Darmanin had declared on France Inter, the main state radio station, that he would no longer agree to talk “with people who refuse to write on a piece of paper that the law of the Republic is superior to the law of God.”
While government representatives have since backpedaled to some extent regarding the “very important” evangelical “problem,” telling journalists that “community-based excesses” represent “a very small minority” among Evangelicals, the statement concerning the law of the Republic and the law of God has not been retracted, and has indeed been made in recent years by other politicians in France.
The recent attacks on religion are linked to the discussion of a new law presented by the French government that aims to “strengthen observance of the principles of the Republic” in a context of growing Islamic presence in France. But instead of targeting Islamic radicalism (called “Islamism” in France), as well as demands made by Muslim communities regarding alimentary restrictions, the practice of sports by girls, special treatment in hospitals, cruel ritual slaughter of animals and so on, the government has extended its law to what it calls “separatism” in a general way so as not to be accused of a “racist” approach against Muslims. But the law explicitly condemns and criminalizes polygamy, forced marriage and the issuance of “virginity certificates,” which in France are only practiced in their communities.
During the last six years, when no less than 25 jihadist attacks in France killed a total of 263 people, the official story was that Islam could not be blamed for the bloodshed, being a religion of “peace and tolerance,” but that radicalized Muslims were betraying their faith by their criminal actions and intolerance. But with 17,000 identified “radicalized” Muslims in France, and a visible desire for non-integration into French society on the part of many mainstream Muslim immigrants, something clearly needed to be done – but without “stigmatizing” this population, as the New Speak goes.
As a result, the generally worded law, which was adopted in its first reading by the National Assembly on Wednesday and is now headed for the Senate, would apply to all “religious associations” in France that are subject to the law of separation of Church and State dating to the beginning of the 20th century.
This was a problem from the start of the political process of adopting the law of “Respect for the principles of the Republic.” By refusing to call by its name a religion that is by nature also a political system – and a totalitarian one, insofar as it regulates all aspects of social and personal life, not making a distinction between the temporal and the spiritual – it was clear that observant Catholics, Christians and Jews in France would risk finding themselves in opposition with one or the other of its provisions.
By eliminating God and religion from the public square, the 1905 separation law had already violently imposed state secularism on France, the “eldest daughter of the Church,” making all cathedrals and parish churches state property, which the Catholic Church is allowed to use. Over the years, the implementation of Church-State relations laws has allowed the return of Catholic congregations and Catholic schools, as well as tax exemptions for the faithful who give to religious associations, leading to a form of “appeased secularity.” However, the obligation to submit to the Republican ideology that has become increasingly atheistic and anti-religious in regard to the public square and education has always lingered in the background, and has become more aggressive in recent years.
The presence of an increasing number of Muslims in France (official statistics are not available because anti-discrimination laws prohibit setting up a public count of ethnic or religious groups, but Islam is now the second-most prevalent religion in France), together with terrorist attacks bearing Islamic signatures, has left France the prisoner of its secularist convictions and laws. The authorities invoke the principles of equality and non-discrimination in refusing to consider Catholicism, or at least Christianity, as having historical and cultural priority rights in the country. As a result, all measures must theoretically apply to everyone. For instance, banning the burqa in public places led to some problems for Catholic teaching nuns wanting to visit public museums with their class, although these occurrences are not common.
This is changing, though. While the first discussions of the “anti-separatism” law were underway last month, some members of the National Assembly suggested that all religious symbols must be banned in public for minors – meaning that a Catholic could not wear a cross pendant or a medal in the “same” way that a Muslim girl would be banned from wearing a head-covering. One left-wing deputy, Eric Coquerel, argued that the veil Catholic women wear when they get married is a symbol of their “submission” to their husband, which goes against Republican equality. Another, Florent Boudié, Relator-General of the law and a member of the presidential LREM party, suggested that being baptized at birth or receiving Holy Communion during childhood does not comply with the Republican principle of liberty.
So when Darmanin came up with his denunication of the “problem” of Evangelicals, his attack was not wholly unpredictable.
Marlène Schiappa, the minister for “Woman-Man Equality,” had already two weeks ago asserted that evangelical Protestants in France require “certificates of virginity” in the same way that some Muslims do. One of the aims of the law under discussion is precisely to punish those who require or establish such certificates in view of marriage, but accusing the evangelicals of the practice defies reality and common sense.
The draft law also sets stringent limits to foreign funding of religious groups, with beneficiaries being required to declare any substantial gift, subsidy or money transfer from abroad.
Evangelicals in France are worried that the law will in fact gravely infringe on religious liberties of all denominations.
“It’s definitely a serious situation,” said Clément Diedrichs, general director of CNEF, the National Council of Evangelicals in France, according to Christianity Today. “‘Laïcité’ (secularity) should protect the free organization of religious groups, but this law will allow the prevention of religious expression in society.”
“France will win nothing in its fight against Islamic separatism by equating Christianity and Islamism,” said Romain Choisnet, CNEF communication director. “The first has shaped this nation that the Republic has inherited. The second wants to replace it.”
Christianity Today also quoted the Free Will Baptists of France, who highlighted five aspects of the draft law: Churches will have to re-register every five years; officials will monitor sermons for hate speech; homeschooling will not be permitted for religious reasons; declarations of foreign funding will include missionary staff; religious leaders cannot be educated outside of France.
Darmanin’s cabinet may have attenuated the minister’s frontal attack on the Evangelicals, as noted above, but his declaration on the superiority of the law of the Republic to the law of God has not been retracted, and obviously counters the faith of all Christian believers and all those who over the centuries have accepted persecution and martyrdom rather than submitting to laws and requirements that contradict the will of God.
His own words — “We cannot discuss with people who refuse to write on paper, that the law of the Republic is superior to the law of God” — were a veiled reference to the “contract of Republican commitment” that all associations receiving public funding will have to sign under the provisions of the new law. Associations will promise “not to assert their own evasion of the laws of the Republic for any reason.”
This is a step toward, for example, prohibiting the proclamation of Christian morals regarding homosexuality or transgenderism that are increasingly protected by law, which currently under discussion aims to add “gender identity” to the categories already protected from “hate speech,” including race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, age, handicaps and so on, or the rejection of abortion as a crime.
Jacques Chirac was another prominent French politician to proclaim as the (successful) presidential candidate in 1995: “Yes to conscientious objection, no to a moral that would override civil law and that would justify placing oneself outside of the law. That is inconceivable in a secular democracy.” He said the words in reaction to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium vitae, that proclaimed, “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.”
Pope John Paul also quoted St. Thomas Aquinas: “Human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence. (…) Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law.”
Of course, juridical positivism has corrupted the idea that the law must be in line with truth and not contradict God’s law, instead of divinizing the subjective will of the majority as the French Revolution did through its proclamation of (godless) human rights and its institution of the Republic.
What is happening right now in France seems mainly to be the logical and full drawing of conclusions of the revolutionary ideology that took over in 1789 and imposed itself through Terror (“La Terreur”). The “anti-separatist” law under discussion is also aiming to severely restrict homeschooling and independent schools in order to increase compliance with these “Republican principles” that reject the transcendency of the law of God. The “school of the Republic” has always been seen and presented as the main vector of that ideology, and religion – and mainly Catholicism – is seen as its enemy. The attack on Evangelicals, who often appear more consequential Christians than many Catholics, did not come by chance.