Free Thought in France
WRITTEN BY CLAUDE SINGER, AAI NEWS TEAM
Please, be very careful with the meaning of the word “communautés” on either side of the Atlantic. There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding on this issue in the media.
In France, the word « communautés » always refers to « religious communities », notably the French people of North-African origin – indeed, they are French citizens! The meaning of the word « community » in the USA is quite different. In addition, « black communities » in the USA are quite different from the many Muslim communities in France. To add confusion, the French Prime Minister has recently used the word « apartheid » concerning deprived neighborhoods during a press conference (!!!) and Fox-News has recently aired a report on « no-go areas » in Paris, which is absolutely stupid and confusing.
In France, Free Thought is not an atheist organization – even if a large number of our membership does not believe in the existence of a transcendent entity. We are a social and philosophical association advocating complete freedom of conscience and free inquiry (therefore we reject imposed dogmas and beliefs). We are one of the oldest associations in France (the first Free Thinkers groups date back to the 1840s); Free Thinkers were the initiators and main promoters of the Separation Law of 1905 in France; and some of our more prominent figures were people such as Victor Hugo (who was a deist) and Ferdinand Buisson (who was a liberal protestant). We do not require our members to declare whether or not they believe in a transcendent entity. This is a private matter. One can join Free Thought by making a commitment to respect the association’s statutes, which includes the commitment to not force themselves, others or their children to engage in or perform any religious ceremony. We clearly understand that this issue may be different on the other side of the Atlantic. But we have always agreed notably with Atheist Alliance on the issue of complete separation of religion and state.
The issue of communitarianism is important. However, the 1905 Law only recognizes that a Republic made up of citizens can enjoy equal rights; the citizens’ beliefs and creeds are not concerned with that Law. Those beliefs take place within the private sphere. Religious communities have no specific rights in France.
Since religions belong to the private sphere (and they cannot claim specific rights for that religion, rights that would place them above or beyond other philosophical concepts, such as Humanist concepts), though they are allowed to freely express their creeds, they can do so as long as they do not disturb public order (Article 2 of the Separation Law of 1905).
In that respect, the 1905 Law is a great law of pacification (remember that it was passed a few years after the “Dreyfus Affair”). The laws of 1881 (freedom of the press), 1901 (freedom of association) and 1905 form the basis of the Republic (together with the laws on public education of 1881-1882: compulsory, free and secular education).
As Free Thinkers, we consider religions to be the worst obstacles to emancipation of thought; we deem them as erroneous in their principles and harmful in their actions. We criticize them for dividing people and diverting them from their worldly goals by developing superstition and fear of the afterlife in their minds; for degenerating into clericalism, fanaticism and imperialism; and for assisting reactionary forces in order to maintain the masses in ignorance and servitude.
You understand clearly that, for us, the Muslim religion is included in our conception of religions.
In recent years – and one can easily date the beginning of this era from the horrific 9/11 attack and the political consequences that followed – a whole party of French politicians (the Right as well as the Left) has mounted the hobbyhorse promoted by US President Bush and his Administration, i.e. the axis of good and evil, and consequently, the relegation of the Muslim religion as the wrong, non-Western religion which would be unable to adapt itself to Modernity, whereas the other religions would be soluble in the great democratic melting-pot.
This new party of French politicians is how new laws have been passed, such as the ban on the wearing of the headscarf in the streets, which we consider as curtailing freedom, because they call into question freedom of conscience; or the willingness to recognize “secularism” in private businesses, making it compulsory for employees to waive their freedom of conscience.
This is how the legitimate concerns following the 7th of January attack were diverted by politicians: in the march on Sunday January 11th, where on the one hand, there were millions of citizens legitimately concerned and protesting against the violation of freedom and the killings, on the other hand, were all the Heads of States and Governments of the world, who are enemies of freedom in their own countries (for example, and it would be a very long list, Mrs. Merkel, who hasn’t repealed the law prohibiting blasphemy in her own country, etc…).
This is how an appeal to representatives of religions (all religions) was immediately launched, to pose themselves as “moral guarantors” of freedom in France, whereas they are not the solution but the problem instead.
This is how the opportunity arose to try to put in place a whole legislative arsenal – a mirror image of the USA PATRIOT Act that was put in place by the Bush Administration.
On the very day after the barbarious and obnoxious attack against the journalists of Charlie-Hebdo, the international association of Free Thought released the following statement:
“The International Association of Free Thought (IAFT), of which the National Federation of Free Thought is a member, declares itself horrified by the murderous attack committed in the premises of Charlie-Hebdo, French satirical newspaper.
It is a barbaric act which can only disgust any democrat, any advocate of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.
The IAFT ensures the journalists and the staff of Charlie-Hebdo of all its solidarity.
The IAFT informs all the associations of Free Thought on all the continents.”
The IAFT paid tribute to all 17 victims of the murders. Within hours and the following days, the appeal for solidarity of the International Association of Free Thought was widely echoed by the associations of Free Thought across the world. Messages and announcements of the following countries have reached us : Ireland, Poland, Italy, Portugal, USA, England, Ulster (Northern Ireland), Canada, Uruguay, France, Germany, Australia, Norway, Austria, Turkey, Lebanon, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Quebec, Scotland, Chile.
Faithful to their historical tradition, Free Thinkers around the world, in complete independence, have marked their solidarity to the victims of barbarity.