Tag Archives: France

France to Facilitate Asylum for Iraqi Christians

France has offered to facilitate asylum for Iraqi Christians who have fled Mosul since the takeover of that city by ISIS, the jidahist group. The announcement came in a joint communiqué by Foreign Minister Laurence Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

Granting asylum is a very imperfect solution to the crisis Mideast Christianity currently faces. Indeed, Mideast Christian leaders typically resist the “escape option,” out of concern that Christian emigration will put an end to faith communities that have endured for thousands of years. For many Mideast Christians, though, emigration may be the only option left.

Fast-tracking asylum is the least the West can do for Iraqi Christians–but it may also be, sadly, the most. France, which traditionally has seen itself as the protector of Christians, especially Catholics, in the Middle East, deserves credit for taking this step. It would be nice if the United States, which bears principal responsibility among Western countries for what has happened to Iraqi Christians, would do the same thing. (H/T: Rod Dreher).

À La Lanterne

A reader points out that today is Bastille Day, the anniversary of the French Revolution, which brought laïcité to Europe. In commemoration whereof, here is a fun quiz from NPR about the Marseillaise, an anthem that will raise the ire of all Throne-and-Altar types. I’m not naming names.

European Human Rights Court to France: Do Whatever You Want

This week, Americans understandably have been occupied with the Hobby Lobby case and its implications for religious freedom in our country. But across the Atlantic, the European Court of Human Rights was handing down its own decision on the scope of religious freedom, S.A.S. v. France. The European Court held that France’s ban on clothing designed to cover one’s face in public–what everyone knows, for obvious reasons, as the “burqa ban”–does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. The court’s ruling reveals the challenges of enforcing a regional, European standard with respect to religious expression.

Some background: Article 9 of the European Convention recognizes a right to manifest one’s religion or belief, subject to limitations that are necessary to promote certain legitimate state interests, including public safety and “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” Any such limitation must be proportionate to the interest the state asserts. The European Court has made clear that Article 9 need not apply uniformly across Europe. Given different national histories and cultures, states have discretion to adapt article 9 in light of the needs and values of their particular societies. The Europeans refer to this discretion as the states’ “margin of appreciation.”

France argued that the ban on burqas is necessary to promote public safety and protect the rights and freedoms of others–specifically, the right of people to live in an “open society” characterized by “civility” and “social interaction.” The court rejected the first argument. Even assuming the burqa posed a risk in some circumstances, it held, a blanket ban is disproportionate. If the concern were public safety, a more targeted ban would be appropriate–in the context of security checks, for example.

The court agreed with France, though, that the ban could be justified on the basis of promoting an “open society”–at least, an open society in the French manner. Obviously, not all societies see the burqa as problematic. In Europe, only Belgium has a similar ban. But the French people had decided that the burqa violates “the ground rules of social communication” in their country. This decision deserved deference, the court held. Given the margin of appreciation in such matters, the court would honor France’s determination that “the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is … incompatible with the fundamental requirements of ‘living together’ in French society.”

This level of deference is really quite breathtaking. Essentially, the European Court is saying, a state can ban religious expression in order to maintain local norms of “living together.” What ban on religious expression would not be allowed under such a standard? Let’s pose a hypothetical case. France already prohibits conspicuous religious dress in public schools. Let’s assume France decides to extend this ban to all public places, arguing that conspicuous religious dress in public creates unnecessary tension and interferes with social interaction à la française. Under the court’s deferential approach, wouldn’t such a ban be permissible? What would be the basis for second guessing France’s assertion about what French social norms require?

The deference to national norms is unavoidable in the context of the Council of Europe, a regime that includes scores of states with widely varying cultures and histories. One size simply doesn’t fit all. If the European Court is to have any legitimacy, it will often need to defer to national judgments on sensitive issues. Still, the European Court purports to pursue a common European standard in respect of human rights. Decisions like S.A.S. suggest that pursuit has a long way to go.

Laïcité in Rome

S. Nicolas des Lorrains

This week, CLR Forum is in Rome, where we’re co-hosting our third international conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” on June 20-21. For people interested in law and religion, Rome is an endlessly fascinating place. On practically every corner, you stumble upon evidence of the long relationship–sometimes cooperative, sometimes antagonistic–between church and state.

Here’s an example. The photo above shows the façade of the Church of San Nicola dei Lorensi, behind Piazza Navona. San Nicola one of a handful of historic French “national” churches in Rome–churches that historically have served as homes for pilgrims from France. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, on the other side of the piazza–the one with the famous Caravaggios–is a more well-known example. As the name suggests, San Nicola was the church for pilgrims from the region of Lorraine. It was built in the 17th Century, but must have fallen into grave disrepair over the centuries, because it was completely restored in the last decade.

Note the placard above the doorway in the photograph: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” This, of course, is the motto of the French Republic–the laïc French Republic. The motto is meant to capture the secular nature of the Republic and the separation of church and state. It’s not an insult, necessarily, but it definitely connotes a rejection of the Catholicism of the old regime. So what is the motto doing over the doorway of an old Catholic church in the heart of Rome?

The answer is, as far as I can tell, is this. San Nicola is owned by a French governmental organization called “Les Pieux Etablissements de la France à Rome et à Lorette,” administered by the French ambassador to the Holy See. According to its website (in French), the organization exists to maintain the historic French national churches, welcome French-speaking pilgrims, and organize cultural events that promote France in Rome.

This isn’t as strange as it may first appear. As readers of our 2010 symposium on laïcité know, the French government owns many church buildings in France, all that existed as of 1905, the date of the Law on the Separation of Churches and the State. Notwithstanding the commitment to laïcité, the 1905 law gives the French government title to church property; the government allows religious bodies to use the property at its discretion. At the time of enactment, the Third Republic required churches to affix signs with the republican motto on their doorways–to demonstrate, I imagine, that there was a new sheriff in town. Most of these signs have now disappeared, though you can still occasionally find them. I remember seeing one on the Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris a few years ago.

It isn’t strange, then, that the French government owns and maintains San Nicola today. According to the website of the French ambassador, San Nicola was restored in 2005 partly with funds from the Regional Council of Lorraine–that is, with public money. During the work, someone–a secularist council member? an embassy staffer?–must have decided it would be a good idea to restore the republican motto as well. So there it is today, a witness, to those who know the story, of the profoundly complicated relationship between religion and the state in France–and in Rome, too.

Lange, “The First French Reformation: Church Reform and the Origins of the Old Regime”

In May, Cambridge University Press will publish The First French Reformation: Church Reform and the Origins of the Old Regime by Tyler Lange (Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt-am-Main). The publisher’s description follows.The First French Reformation

The political culture of absolute monarchy that structured French society into the eighteenth century is generally believed to have emerged late in the sixteenth century. This new interpretation of the origins of French absolutism, however, connects the fifteenth-century conciliar reform movement in the Catholic Church to the practice of absolutism by demonstrating that the monarchy appropriated political models derived from canon law. Tyler Lange reveals how the reform of the Church offered a crucial motive and pretext for a definitive shift in the practice and conception of monarchy, and explains how this first French Reformation enabled Francis I and subsequent monarchs to use the Gallican Church as a useful deposit of funds and judicial power. In so doing, the book identifies the theoretical origins of later absolutism and the structural reasons for the failure of French Protestantism.

Jansen, “Secularism, Assimilation, and the Crisis of Multiculturalism”

9789089645968-yolande-jansen-secularism-assimilation-and-the-crisis-of-multiculturalism-178Next month, Amsterdam University Press will publish Secularism, Assimilation, and the Crisis of Multiculturalism: French Modernist Legacies by Yolande Jansen (Amsterdam Centre for Globalization Studies). The publisher’s description follows.

This remarkable study develops a theoretical critique of contemporary discourses on secularism and assimilation, arguing that the perspective of assimilating distinct religious minorities by incorporating them into a secular and supposedly neutral public sphere may be self-subverting. To flesh out this insight, Jansen draws on the paradoxes of assimilation as experienced by the French Jews in the late 19th century through a contextualised reading of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. She proposes a dynamic, critical multiculturalism as an alternative to discourses focusing on secularism, assimilation and integration.

Fredette, “Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship”

Next month, Temple University will publish 2272_regConstructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship, by Jennifer Fredette (San Diego State University). The publisher’s description follows.

The standing of French Muslims is undercut by a predominant and persistent elite public discourse that frames Muslims as failed and incomplete French citizens. This situation fosters the very separations, exclusions, and hierarchies it claims to deplore as Muslims face discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

In Constructing Muslims in France, Jennifer Fredette provides a deft empirical analysis to show the political diversity and complicated identity politics of this relatively new population. She examines the public identity of French Muslims and evaluates images in popular media to show how stereotyped notions of racial and religious differences pervade French public discourse. While rights may be a sine qua non for fighting legal and political inequality, Fredette shows that additional tools such as media access are needed to combat social inequality, particularly when it comes in the form of unfavorable discursive frames and public disrespect.

Presenting the conflicting views of French national identity, Fredette shows how Muslims strive to gain recognition of their diverse views and backgrounds and find full equality as French citizens.

1000 Mots

Treasure, “The Huguenots”

This month, Yale University Press publishes The Huguenots, by Geoffrey Treasure.  The publisher’s description follows. Huguenots

Following the Reformation, a growing number of radical Protestants came together to live and worship in Catholic France. These Huguenots survived persecution and armed conflict to win—however briefly—freedom of worship, civil rights, and unique status as a protected minority. But in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes abolished all Huguenot rights, and more than 200,000 of the radical Calvinists were forced to flee across Europe, some even farther.   In this capstone work, Geoffrey Treasure tells the full story of the Huguenots’ rise, survival, and fall in France over the course of a century and a half. He explores what it was like to be a Huguenot living in a “state within a state,” weaving stories of ordinary citizens together with those of statesmen, feudal magnates, leaders of the Catholic revival, Henry of Navarre, Catherine de’ Medici, Louis XIV, and many others. Treasure describes the Huguenots’ disciplined community, their faith and courage, their rich achievements, and their unique place within Protestantism and European history. The Huguenot exodus represented a crucial turning point in European history, Treasure contends, and he addresses the significance of the Huguenot story—the story of a minority group with the power to resist and endure in one of early modern Europe’s strongest nations.

Tocqueville and Gobineau

It is fitting to end this series with a study of the exchanges between GobineauTocqueville and his younger friend and assistant, Arthur de Gobineau. For if Tocqueville was the explorer of the new age of democracy, Gobineau was the herald of a return to an age of aristocracy, if in an untraditional and modernized form.

Though little remembered now, Gobineau was a prolific and assiduous writer, known chiefly for his defense of racism, the Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (1853-55) (“Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races”). Eleven years younger than Tocqueville and, like him, the Essaiscion of a noble family (if a lesser one), Gobineau was probably introduced to Tocqueville by royalist friends of both. Whether or not they had met previously, the two men began a correspondence in 1843. The exchange resulted from an invitation the Académie des sciences morales et politiques had extended to Tocqueville in that year, to prepare a study on modern moral doctrines in order to establish what, if anything, was novel in them. Tocqueville sought to enlist the young Gobineau’s assistance in the project. The ensuing correspondence took, for Tocqueville, a surprising turn, as he found his deepest beliefs about the relationship of Christianity to modern society sharply challenged. Tocqueville abandoned the study in 1848, probably owing to the revolution of that year.

A second major round of correspondence took place beginning about a decade later, around the time of the appearance of Gobineau’s book on racial inequality. This new, illiberal orientation in Gobineau’s thought deeply disturbed Tocqueville, who told Gobineau frankly that he objected to its “fatalism” and its “materialism.” To other correspondents, Tocqueville complained that Gobineau’s “stud farm philosophy” expounded “dangerous thoughts . . . in a journalistic style.” See Françoise Mélonio, Tocqueville and the French 129 (Beth Raps trans. 1998). For his part, Gobineau exulted that the book had “struck the nerve of liberal ideas at its core.” Id.

Despite their basic differences, Tocqueville befriended Gobineau, launching him on a diplomatic career when Tocqueville became France’s Foreign Minister in 1849. Gobineau did not repay Tocqueville’s kindness: in his 1874 novel Les Pléiades, his used the character of Genevilliers to mock and satirize his benefactor. Mélonio at 128-30.

The interest and importance of the Tocqueville-Gobineau correspondence has been rightly emphasized by several scholars. See especially Aristide Tessitore, “Tocqueville and Gobineau on the Nature of Modern Politics,” 67 Review of Politics 631 (2005); see also Christian Bégin, “Tocqueville et la fracture religieuse,” 32 The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville 167 (2011); Larry Siedentop, Tocqueville 96-106; 126-30 (1994); William A. Galston, “Tocqueville on Liberalism and Religion,” 54 Social Research 499 (1987). The historian John Lukacs has edited and translated most – though unfortunately not all – of the correspondence, and I shall use this translation. Alexis de Tocqueville, “The European Revolution” & Correspondence with Gobineau (John Lukacs ed. & trans. 1968).

The ultimate issues

The confrontation between Tocqueville and Gobineau was played out on at least two levels.

First, as of 1843, Gobineau “might best be described as a radical partisan of the Enlightenment project.” Tessitore at 632. Throughout his career, however, Tocqueville had argued that modern Western society was indebted to both the Enlightenment and Christianity, that the central doctrines of both movements were compatible, and that the tension between them was fruitful and beneficent, each correcting the flaws and excesses of the other. See id. at 639; 652; Galston at 502-04. The core principles of the Enlightenment, such as “the natural equality of men,” were also part of the patrimony of Christianity. See Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ancien Régime and the Revolution 21 (Bevan trans. 2008).

For Gobineau, the Enlightenment marks a revolutionary transformation in the West, ushering in a post-Christian era in which morality has come to rest on a wholly naturalistic foundation. See Tessitore at 641. For Tocqueville, by contrast, the coming of Christianity is the only true revolution that the West has yet seen, or may ever see. (The same thesis has been defended at length, but without reference to Tocqueville, in David Bentley Hart’s brilliant Atheist Delusions, cited earlier in this series.). There is, indeed, a radical discontinuity in the dominant ethos of the West; but this is the rupture between classical antiquity and the rise of Christianity, not between the Christian ages and the aftermath of the Enlightenment. True, the morality of the nineteenth century differs significantly from that of the pre-Enlightenment period, notably with regard to the importance of political action and the recognition of life’s material needs. But these changes, Tocqueville insists, merely reflect the development of Christian morality over long stretches of time and its adaptation to new circumstances. They do not constitute evidence of the dominance of a radically de-christianized ethos. See Tessitore at 636; 644-45; 648; Galston at 505-08.

Second, Gobineau’s view of modern morality in the early 1840s laid the foundation for his later teaching about human inequality.

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