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French president presses Muslim leaders to embrace ‘republican values’

December 2, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- In the wake of several suspected Islamist attacks in France this year, President Emmanuel Macron has asked the country’s Muslim leaders to sign a “charter of republican values” agreeing to a rejection of Islam as a political movement.

According to the BBC, Macron’s proposed charter is one part of a wider government strategy to curb foreign influence and prevent violence and threats from extremists.

Macron has, since his 2017 election, emphasized support for secular government and has criticized what he calls “Islamist separatism,” encouraging the nation’s Muslims to integrate into French society. As part of legislation that Macron has introduced to tackle extremism, homeschooling would be restricted.

The charter will, among other things, state that Islam is a religion and not a political movement, the BBC reports.

Members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith agreed in November to form a national council of imams, and the CFCM is set to meet with Macron this week to discuss the proposed charter. The CFCM will be charged with accrediting imams.

France is home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority, at around 5 million.

The debate over the charter and the “French values” it contains continues following at least three suspected Islamist terrorist attacks during 2020.

In mid-October, a Muslim student beheaded teacher Samuel Paty after Paty showed his class a cartoon depicting Muhammad.

Eyewitnesses said that suspect Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov shouted “Allahu akbar”— Arabic for “God is great”— as he murdered Paty near the middle school where he taught. The 18-year-old Russian national of Chechen origin was shot dead by police shortly after the murder.

Public schools in France held a minute of silence in tribute to Paty Nov. 2, and some classrooms held discussions on freedom of expression.

The discussions of freedom of expression led to the police investigation of at least 17 minors, one of whom is Catholic, the New York Times reported.

The justice ministry said 14 minors were interrogated in police stations or held in custody. Some of their families were questioned about their religious practices.

One 16-year-old near Marseille was arrested for continuing to listen to music on headphones during the minute of silence.

Another Islamic attacker on Oct. 29 killed three people inside Notre-Dame de Nice. Police shot and arrested the perpetrator, Brahim Aouissaoui. Aouissaoui reportedly arrived in Europe in late September, first at the Italian island Lampedusa before traveling to France.

Other attacks took place in France Oct. 29. In Montfavet, near Avignon, a man waving a handgun made threats and was killed by the police two hours after the Nice attack. Radio station Europe 1 said the man was also shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the CFCM, condemned the terrorist attack and asked French Muslims to cancel their festivities for Mawlid, the Oct. 29 celebration of Muhammad’s birthday, “as a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones.”

Macron introduced sweeping anti-radicalization legislation following the attacks, which is set to be debated in the French cabinet Dec. 9. Restrictions on homeschooling are among the provisions of the bill.

Other provisions of the bill include stricter punishments for those who intimidate public officials on religious grounds; extending national identification numbers— which most students in France already have— to homeschoolers to ensure that students are attending school; and a ban on sharing personal information that allows people who want to harm a person to find them, a practice known in the U.S. as “doxxing.”

The concept of laïcité, or secularism, has been a fixture of French law since 1905. At that time, the Third Republic officially established state secularism, causing a subsequent wave of anti-Catholicism, which included the end of government funding for religious schools, mandatory civil marriage, and the removal of chaplains from the army.

The principles of laïcité have evolved over the years to apply to private citizens as well as the government, and in recent decades been applied to Muslim women who wear hijabs or other religious garb in public.

During summer 2016, the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, ruled that the burkini ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet “seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms,” including freedom of belief. 

On Nov. 30 this year, the French Council of State ruled that a proposed 30-person limit on Masses and other forms of public worship is a “disproportionate” government measure and must be modified by Dec. 2.

The country’s Catholic bishops welcomed the decision Nov. 29, saying in a statement that “reason has been recognized.”

France has suffered over a dozen Islamist terrorist attacks since 2015, including a January attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper, and a series of coordinated attacks in Paris during November 2015 that killed at least 130 people. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

Father Jacques Hamel was beheaded by supporters of the Islamic State while offering Mass July 26, 2016. Following Paty’s killing this year, religious leaders gathered at a memorial to Hamel and laid a wreath in Paty’s honor.

In England, multiple Catholic bishops have expressed concern that the government’s push for “British values” in schools, meant to counter Islamist extremism, could instead harm sincere religious believers and burden Catholic schools.


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French bishops launch second legal appeal to reinstate public Masses for all

November 27, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Rome Newsroom, Nov 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The French bishops’ conference announced Friday that it would submit another appeal to the Council of State, calling a proposed 30-person limit on public Masses during Advent “unacceptable.”

In a statement issued Nov. 27, the bishops said that they “have a duty to ensure the freedom of worship in our country” and therefore would file another “référé liberté” with the Council of State regarding the latest government coronavirus restrictions on Mass attendance. 

A “référé liberté” is an urgent administrative procedure that is filed as a petition to a judge for the protection of fundamental rights, in this case, the right to freedom of worship. The Council of State both advises and judges the French government on its compliance with the law.

French Catholics have been without public Masses since Nov. 2 due to France’s strict second lockdown. On Nov. 24, President Emmanuel Macron announced that public worship could resume Nov. 29 but would be limited to 30 people per church. 

The announcement elicited a strong reaction from many Catholics, including several bishops.

“It is a totally stupid measure that contradicts common sense,” Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris said Nov. 25, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro. 

The archbishop, who practiced medicine for more than 20 years, continued: “Thirty people in a small village church, we understand, but in Saint-Sulpice, it’s ridiculous! Two thousand parishioners come to certain parishes in Paris, and we’re going to stop at 31 … It’s ridiculous.”

Saint-Sulpice is the second largest Catholic church in Paris after the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. 

A statement issued by Paris archdiocese Nov. 27 argued that the government measures could have “easily have allowed the resumption of Mass in public for all, while applying a rigorous health protocol and guaranteeing the protection and health of all.”

In addition to filing the “référé liberté,” a delegation of French bishops will also meet with the prime minister on Nov. 29. The delegation will include Archishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference.

The French bishops’ initial appeal earlier this month was rejected by the Council of State on Nov. 7. But in response, the judge specified that churches would remain open and that Catholics would be able visit a church near their homes, regardless of distance, if they carried out the necessary paperwork. Priests would also be allowed to visit people in their homes and chaplains permitted to visit hospitals.

France has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than two million recorded cases and over 50,000 deaths as of Nov. 27, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Following the Council of State’s decision, the bishops proposed a protocol of reopening public liturgies at a third of each church’s capacity, with increased social distancing.

The bishops’ conference statement asked French Catholics to abide by the government’s rules while the outcome of their legal challenge and negotiations are pending. 

In recent weeks Catholics have taken to the streets in major cities across the country to protest against the public Mass ban, praying together outside their churches.

“May the use of the law help to calm the spirits. It is clear to all of us that the Mass cannot become a place of struggle … but remain a place of peace and communion. The first Sunday of Advent should turn us peacefully to the coming Christ,” the bishops’ statement said.