Agnostic French President Francois Hollande recently announced he would strengthen his country’s commitment to a naked public square by establishing a “National Observatory of Secularism.” Under the guise of non-violence, Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters that the observatory was created “not to combat opinions by force, but to detect and understand when an [religious] opinion turns into a potentially violent and criminal excess.” Valls added that the observatory’s objective is “to identify when it’s suitable to intervene to treat what has become a religious pathology.”
Those under the spell of “religious pathology,” according to the French government, include orthodox Jews, Islamists, and members of the traditionalist Catholic group Society of St. Pius X. Contra Valls’ claim that the observatory won’t “combat opinions by force,” it is being reported that such groups may be disbanded if they don’t comply with authorities.
In a laughable defense of France’s value system, Education Minister Vincent Peillon argued that secularism “is not about simple tolerance” but is instead about “understanding what is right and being able to distinguish good from evil.” Secular morality, he opined, “is a set of values that we have to share.” What Monsieur Peillon forgot to mention is that the city of Marseilles, France’s second largest city, is one of the most dangerous places to live throughout all of Europe. And that there are news reports that suggest up to 30 members of an elite anti-crime force in Marseilles took part in a massive, deadly racketeering operation. So perhaps Peillon should think twice before defending secularism’s efficaciousness.
Inasmuch as it may seem egregious to most Americans, and by most Americans I mean those who don’t work for the mainstream media or Catholics United, the arguments behind creating a government authority on secularism, particularly in a country like France, are not illogical. Secularism, or as the French call it “laicite,” has been the official philosophy of the French government toward church-state relations since 1905. And according to Hollande, former President Nicolas Sarkozy weakened the country’s commitment to it. Emboldened by the sweeping victories of socialists in May, Hollande has decided to fight back against what he perceives as a weakening of French values.
And fight back he has. Despite his brief time in office, Hollande has imposed his values on French citizens at a feverish pace. He established a 75% income tax rate on millionaires and has put France on the path toward recognizing same sex unions. He is seeking to do away with homework (something the Los Angeles school district almost accomplished last June) and he has signed into law legislation that will allow women to be 100% reimbursed for abortion procedures. Furthermore, as if relying on a Dr Seuss book, his political allies are pushing for the elimination of the words “mother” and “father” from government documents, preferring instead the gender neutral “Parent 1″ and “Parent 2.”
Hollande’s efforts are highly emblematic of the tension between religious and secular forces in Western, liberal democracies. Historically, liberalism allowed for and at times encouraged religious expression in public while carving out exemptions for those with moral reservations about certain governmental policies. But now, as evidenced by the HHS mandate in the United States and news that a Catholic high school in Montreal must stop teaching a course on Catholic ethics and switch to a state-provided course on secular values, it’s abundantly clear that liberalism’s aggressive tendencies are giving way to a thoroughgoing worldview that only respects the opinions of those who agree with it.
The proposition is as follows: Kneel before the high altar of secularism, give up your rigid moral absolutes and social conservatism, and we’ll make sure to protect you. In other words, “fall down and worship the state and you’ll get whatever you want.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?