Saturday, February 16, 2008
Two years ago, this writer made a presentation at a Religious Freedom conference at the Universidad de Alcala de Henares in Spain. The presentation centered on the political activity of churches and religious organizations in the United States of America. In responding to the presentation, one of the conference participants -- a member of the French Constitutional Court -- expressed his shock and dismay that religious organizations in America were engaging in such activity. According to the learned jurist, in France separation of Church and State is strictly observed; matters of state are dealt with by the State, and matters of religious import are addressed by the Church; the two entities do not interfere with each other's role in French society.
It appears, though, that French President Nicholas Sarkozy is prepared to revisit this issue and possibly relax the strict separationist policy. In a recent article in Christian Today, President Sarkozy is quoted as saying:
"We should accept both sides - accept the Christian roots of France ... while defending secularism. We don't want to change the law separating church and state. The French don't want that and the religions don't want it either."
Sarkozy then went on to state that France needed "convinced Catholics who are not afraid to say who they are and what they believe." He did point out, however, that he welcomed outspoken believers of all faiths, and that "those who do not believe should be protected from all forms of intolerance and proselytism. But," the article quotes the French President as saying, "a person who believes is a person who hopes. The republic has an interest in having many men and women who hope."
As the United States of America goes through another election season and Jefferson's "Wall of Separation" between Church and State sometimes looks like a plain, President Sarkozy's apparent break with French tradition is, to say the least, interesting and thought-provoking.