French President Emmanuel Macron has committed himself to “transform” France. For the occupant of the Elysée Palace such transformation encompasses a set of fiscal reforms, Europe’s relaunch, along with the reinterpretation of the concept of laicité.
Laicité, understood as the utter division of public powers and religion, has been an intrinsic part and of French culture for over a century.
In fact, as enshrined in the French Constitution, “France is a secular Republic.” Whilst respecting the secular principle, the President intends to prompt an evolution in public disposition.
Past December 21 Macron received the leaders of religious faiths and traditions in France not for an official meeting but for a free debate on various issues: secularism, the school environment, the reception of migrants, legislation on bioethics, Islamism. The meeting lasted more than two hours. The Vice-President of the French Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Pascal Delannoy, highlighted the “climate of dialogue: authentic, open dialogue.”
By tradition, every year the French President would receive religious leaders to exchange New Year greetings. But it was an extremely formal encounter marked by the address of the President of the Republic – hence it was not a true “dialogue.”
The event of past December 21 had a completely different connotation:
It was an informal debate that paves the way to the “laicity of dialogue”, recognizing the right of religions to express their views on all matters of interest of French citizens, highlighting the social responsibility of religious leaders and of the communities of faithful. In fact, Macron spoke of a “laicity of freedom.”
The President of the French Republic will soon announce the creation of a dialogue initiative between the State and religions, to usher in a new tradition consisting in the dialogue between the State and religions and between the different religious traditions and faiths present in the Country. While other dialogue initiatives involving the State and the Bishops’ Conference or between the State and the Islam communities of France have already been established, this initiative is unprecedented:
Establishing a communication channel, a structured initiative for encounter between everyone and with everyone, changes everything.
This initiative draws from the example of the city of Lyon, where a similar initiative has been put into action: the “Concorde et Solidarité” group created by the city’s mayor Gérard Collomb in 2002 to advance dialogue between the faithful and between the Town Council and the faithful in every sector. Lyon has thus become the testing ground of a renewed, modern form of laicité.
Gérard Collomb is now Minister of the Interior and Minister for Religious Affairs. With no doubt the proposal of the French President was deeply inspired by the example of Lyon, a city with deep-rooted, historic religious traditions.