Et tu, Franciscus?
Has the pope subscribed to Frau Merkel’s Rainbow Fallacy? This article by Yohann Rimokh in Le Figaro sheds some light on the origins and interpretation of French laïcité, taking in the pope’s interview of 16th May in the catholic daily, La Croix, and the fate of Europe in passing. In the view of The Europeans, the 1905 French law of secularism — laïcité — has been detached from its innocent intentions and developed into a political therapy: one designed to suppress Christianity and irrigate Islam. Proof that the drafters of Constitutions rarely see further than their noses. The miracle of the British Constitution is that it is unwritten, unsanctified and therefore subject to alteration, with no special fuss, by simple Acts of Parliament. A sovereignty worth preserving.
FIGAROVOX/TRIBUNE : The pope has given his opinion in an interview accorded to La Croix, that France “overdoes secularism”. Yohann Rimokh recalls the historical links between laïcité and Christianity.
We notice daily the power and repercussions of the fait accompli. Islam of France, Islam in France, and in Europe, the demography of European societies has a considerable impact on the organisation of these same societies. Everything is in flux; the disorder is complete. What was self-evident yesterday is no longer so today. What was incontestable is overturned in a few hours. Over the near-totality of the political arena, traditions dim and new conceptions emerge. The tension is palpable: what is laïcité, secularism? Is it as in the official account, that of the government, of the political class as a whole, that dignified by the pope himself during an interview with La Croix? Or is it something else entirely, the current stage in a long history, crystallised by the law of 1905 on the separation of Church and State?
History does not ‘wear off’: even the pope cannot interfere with its power. The texts remain, the arrangements endure, the preparatory work survives. Laïcité is a child of Christianity and will remain so for as long as the law of 1905 remains in force, for as long as access to the details of its drafting is available to men of good will, to read and understand the work of the then parliament.
When Jaurès, the greatest defender of secularism, mounted the rostrum in the Chamber on the 21st of April, 1905, to give his summing up of the Bill drafted by Aristide Briand, when he pleaded the case and attempted to win over the last of the parliamentary resistance, the essence of his reasoning was given in two words: the Church and the Revolution. Two words, two paradigms, two foundations of French identity. Dead letters from now on, that fail to excite the interest of any politician.
And when it came down to the wire, to giving the underlying principle and delivering the message of French secularism, here are the words of Jaurès: “I would not wish to assume an air of impertinence in reducing to one, too-simple formula the genius of the very history of our country; but I feel able to say this historically: France is not schismatic, it is revolutionary“. This country had never heard in 1905 of ‘divorcing’ the Church, or of provoking a schism, or of introducing some kind of ‘equality’ of religions. It is a reciprocity that we are talking about here. And nothing else. To the Church, civil society; to the State, executive power. To the State, the responsibility for guaranteeing the place of the Church in civil society with financial support; to the Church, to exit from the temple of power and from the exercise of sovereignty. Such is laïcité; difficult to subsume into the usual categories of the western, Anglo-Saxon world.
Liberty of conscience and the free exercise of religion are guaranteed only within the framework of the prevalence of the Catholic faith, apostolic and Roman. Liberty is not equality. If the state had wanted to proclaim real equality of religions before the law, why this particular statute […] and not those obtaining before 1905, notably those established in 1789?
Jaurès, Briand, and Combes did not ignore history. No matter what the [present] government or the pope may think, there exists a continuity between the monarchy, the Empire, and the Republic; between the catholicism of the State of the kings of France, the Napoleonic Concordat, and the laïcité of the Republic. Again, between the three formulæ: “The eldest daughter of the Church”, “Catholicism, the religion of the great majority of the French”, and “Church and Revolution”. It is the old idea that the sovereign, whether monarch or president, must not be involved in religious affairs, and that conversely the clergy govern only the spirit – to recall Tocqueville – and not political matters. This prudence derives from nowhere other than the amalgam of a double heritage: the Church and the Revolution. It is not in vain: it was for a long time the best way to protect state power from the troublesome influence of the Vatican, and to keep public order free of foreign proselytising. It is what one could call an equilibrium.
❝ The pope’s comments are therefore particularly revealing. They give weight not only to the ideology that would accord a crucifix the same value as a veil, a burqa, a niqab, a kippa, or a turban. They speak volumes about the idea that this papacy sees France as obliged to compromise.❞
But the age is thus: everyone leads us astray, from the Council of State to Pope Francis, via the umpteen speeches made by various members of the modern political class. Secularism, laïcité, ought to be understood as equality of all the religions, as State neutrality, as tolerance; it should be available in any form: laïcité of the Right, of the Left, radical laïcité, social laïcité, inclusive or integrationist, of combat or appeasement. “Secularism overdone”, as pope Francis said. Everything deceives us, with the exception of the provisions of the law of 1905 and its preliminary works.
The pope’s comments are therefore particularly revealing. They give weight not only to the ideology that would accord a crucifix the same value as a veil, a burqa, a niqab, a kippa, or a turban. They speak volumes about the idea that this papacy sees France as obliged to compromise, as no longer having the means to maintain and impose its traditions. The spring dries up; the nourishing sap makes itself increasingly scarce. This is something utterly new.
From the purely juridical point of view, the fate of the law of 1905 will remain especially telling. How, at this juncture, can the provisions of a law be betrayed by the courts and the authorities, while still remaining in force? How, at this juncture, can a legal text bridge the gap between what it prescribes, its intentions, and its practice?
Mystery of the era. There is no specified procedure for breaking with a tradition. No method for destroying an ancient equilibrium. We live, therefore, under the rule of a law whose only legislative element is its title. “Indivisible links, close to all-powerful, attach the ideas of one century to those of the century that preceded it”, added Tocqueville. Wrong. At least if you believe Francis.◼︎