Aspects of the anti-Separatism law of 2021 “undermine freedom of religion”, says the World Evangelical Alliance at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
France is doing well its fight against racism and the discrimination of minority groups. But some recent laws have been counter-productive, evangelical representatives told the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva (Switzerland).
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), one of the NGO organisations with right to speak at the Universal Periodic Reviews of the United Nations, said “the law of August 24, 2021 reinforcing respect for the principles of the Republic has substantially altered the regime governing religious worship in France, with a shift towards a ‘surveillance secularism’ of worship that could undermine freedom of religion”.
— World Evangelical Alliance at the United Nations (@WEA_UN) October 2, 2023
WEA’s speaker Marcus Hofer was referring to a law passed by the parliament known in France as the ‘anti-separatism law’, in a context of growing militant Islamism in certain areas of the country.
The law has led to the closing of at least one mosque for “unacceptable” preaching against homosexuals and Christians, the government confirmed in December 2021. Around one hundred other Muslim worship places had been investigated, the police said.
De retour au Conseil des droits de l'homme #HRC54 pour appeler la #France à veiller à ce que la nouvelle législation (2021) sur le régime des cultes ne porte pas atteinte à la liberté religieuse #FoRB, dans le cadre de l'Examen périodique universel de la France #UPR43. pic.twitter.com/auLJ1ruONC
— Markus Stefan Hofer (@yosukram) September 29, 2023
While being discussed by parliamentarians two years ago, the National Council of Evangelicals in France (CNEF, which represents the majority of free evangelical churches and is a member of the World Evangelical Alliance) analised the draft law in detail and gave recommendations to churches.
The evangelical body lamented that the law would not only control the advance of radical Islamist ideas but add to the “ignorance and sometimes mistrust of religion that is spreading at the very heart of public institutions”, said the CNEF’s communication director, Romain Choisnet.
Protestant historian Sebastian Fath also argued that “rather than strengthening freedom of conscience and guaranteeing freedom of worship, this project strengthens control over faith groups”.
The French Protestant Federation, the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops also pointed out that the law “betrayed the 1905 law of separation of Church and State” and would lead to a new context in which religious activities “will be carried out under the supervision of the Prefect”. These three religious bodies challenged the ‘anti-separatism law’ in the French Constitutional Court but failed.
It is in this context that the World Evangelical Alliance expressed on 29 September 2023 worries about “conditions that are too restrictive or constraining” for faith groups in France. A good way to make sure the law does not lead to discriminatory situations would be to “pay particular attention to religious communities from the diasporas, in order to support them in learning about and applying the reform”, Markus Stefan Hofer said.
In his statement, the WEA speaker also encouraged the French government to add the fight against anti-religious hate in the government’s inter-ministerial platform against racism, anti-Semitism and LGBTphobia.
A last issue raised by the WEA during the UPR session on France in Geneva was the demand to implement a clause of conscientious objection for health professionals, especially in the work areas related to “procreation and the end of life”. French President Emmanuel Macron has piloted a new bioethics law while the parliament extended the abortion deadline from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy and the Senate later voted to enshrine abortion in the constitution.
[title]French evangelical Christians
[text]There are 745,000 evangelical Christians in France. They gather in communities that almost in all cases include migrants from a range of national backgrounds. Pastors and churches have often called the government to not fuel disinformation and prejudices about their churches, in a secularised context in which government ministers have repeatedly misrepresented evangelical churches.