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UMP unveils ideas for secularism

Party wants to collect, rework and enforce all laws on religion, examine funding, ease taxation and borrowing and allow

5 April 2011

THE UMP party has produced a total of 26 propositions which cover areas such as funding and the relationship between religion, the state, the public and the workplace.

The party's debate on the issue of religion, Islam and France drew criticism for stigmatising Muslims and protests were held. Here is an outline of the UMP proposals:

Three propositions for a balance between a secular state and religious freedom

1. First proposition: a parliamentary vote to demonstrate MPs’ attachment to and approval of the 1905 law separating church and state.

2. Second proposition: collect together the myriad laws, rules, government circulars and legal rulings concerning religion and the state in France to clarify various positions.

3. Third proposition: to create a code of law specifically for religious freedom and the state that would outline the rules in particular areas such as the work place, public spaces, the home etc.

Ten propositions to reaffirm the separation of church and state

1. To ban by law the use of religious beliefs and guidelines to break laws governing the relation of the state (from national to local levels) and the general population. This is to separate the principle from that of conscious objection, which is protected by law.

2. To reinforce teaching in school of both secularism and of the different major religions. The UMP text describes both ignorance of the workings of the secular state and of different beliefs as the soil that fosters ignorance and fear.

3. All civil servants, including police officers, teachers, medical and council staff must take a course explaining the rules and workings of the secular state. The course will be adapted depending on the nature of their work and will be a mandatory part of the introduction to their job.

4. To use the resources of French universities to develop a course module on secularism, the history of France, the sociology of religions and religious speech to help educate future religious leaders in France.

5. To extend by law all rules of neutrality and secularism to members of the public working with the civil service, even part time. This would cover areas like parents accompanying children on a school trip.

6. To extend by law all rules of neutrality and secularism to bodies working in partnership with the civil service, including private groups, but with the option for some bodies to opt out.

7. To ban members of the public from refusing to be served by government workers on the grounds of the worker's sex or religion. (This would prevent members of the public from choosing a male or female doctor in certain circumstances).

8. Members of the public will not be able to use religious beliefs to demand specific treatment from public bodies if this provides an obstacle to the efficient provision of services. This ranges from moving the dates of exams which conflict with religious holidays, to providing vegetarian meals for prisoners. This proposition does allow for flexibility as long as the provision of services is not hindered.

9. The law will prevent parents of school children in both state and private schools from removing children from lessons. This principle covers PE, natural sciences and personal studies. The UMP text states that "the schools of the Republic are not a service à la carte where students and their families choose programmes at their convenience”.

10. To ensure that TV channels follow the rules laid out in terms of religious programming. Programmes should not be scrapped without good reason and should not be moved to anti-social hours as they perform a vital function for believers who suffer handicaps which keep them at home or unable to visit places of worship.

Thirteen propositions to guarantee religious freedom in France

The text says that the laws of the secular state cannot apply in the same manner to the private sector as to the public one.

1. To change the law to allow firms, in very specific cases, and with openly-stated reasons, to ban the wearing of religious symbols.

2. To change the law to allow firms to include in company rules particular areas pertaining to religion. While French legal precedent currently gives little or no ground for exceptions from certain work practices (such as not working on a pork counter), this law would make it clearer for companies to set out rules allowing greater religious freedom.

3. Organise special courses for human resources directors and work inspectors.

4. To create a guide to good practices for religious freedom and living together at work.

5. To allow religious organisations to rent new land using very long term leases with an option to buy, making the purchase of land and construction of buildings easier. While the state is not allowed to fund religious projects, it could make it easier to loan money to religious groups.

6. All foreign money sent towards the construction of religious buildings in France should pass through a nationally-registered fund, where accounts will be open to scrutiny.

7. All funds towards construction collected from believers should be channeled into a nationally-registered association, allowing both the open scrutiny of finances and taxation benefits.

8. To clarify, simplify and occasionally relax some of the laws surrounding the legal structures of religious organisations.

9. With the exception of traditional gatherings, the exercise of religious services outside of religious buildings will be subject to permission.

10. To allow local mairies to develop particular religious areas of cemeteries, without endangering their commitment to secularism or neutrality.

11. To clarify the social security schemes, positions and protection of religious leaders.

12. To examine further how to ensure that religious leaders in France are not subordinate to foreign powers. The UMP text specifically makes reference to creating the conditions by which the practice of Islam in France is funded by Muslims in France.

13. To examine the ritual slaughter of animals, allowing specific abattoirs to apply to the state to continue specific religious rites but also to ensure that the suffering of animals is limited.

Photo: Laurent saccomano - Fotolia.com

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