The French religious context is changing rapidly. The growing visibility of Islam is the most mentioned phenomenon, but one has also to quote the revival of an identity-based Catholicism (perceptible during the debates on the marriage for all) and the development of Evangelical Protestant churches. In addition, many French people left for Syria, several terrorist attacks claiming to be (or being identified as) of Muslim origin and the closure of several Salafist mosques were carried out.
In this complex and changing context, the President of the Republic has expressed his willingness to amend the law of December 1905 on the separation of Church and State. Three axes were indicated: empowering the managers of places of worship, preventing fundamentalist trends and reducing foreign influence. Religious associations would have more duties, but also more rights and the possibility of more financial resources.
The 1905 law is the foundation of French “laicité”. It has already been modified several times, but many people fear that such an amendation will open Pandora’s box. Representatives of recognized religions are concerned that the State will strengthen its control over the management of religious associations. Many are waiting for the President’s speech on the subject. This speech has been postponed several times, a sign both of the complexity of the issue and of the French tensions on this sensitive subject.
Professor Rémi Gounelle, Faculté de Théologie Catholique,Université de Strasbourg