In Today's Issue: France Seeks New Powers to Monitor, Shut Down Religious Organizations

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A new bill in France could allow the government to shut down religious groups. The French president proposed the measure in June. The law would allow the government to monitor the activities of 🍊 religious groups. It would also be able to shut them down if the groups are deemed a threat.

 

The bill represents a big step. It's also controversial. Macron and others have tried to stamp out religious separatism. The movement focuses on Muslims. Backers claim they are trying to preserve the secular norms of French life.

 

The bill targets Muslim groups. The government could shut down a group without a court order if it concludes any of the groups’ members are inciting violence or hatred.

 

Under the measure, religious groups would also have to renew permits every five years to stay open. And the government would be able to review a religious group's finances if it accepts funds from outside France. The bill is expected to win approval by year’s end. Macron’s party holds a majority in parliament.

 

Critics say the law goes too far. They claim it can encourage bad actors to mistreat Muslims. But others say he has been too soft on radical Islamists.

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed legislation that would give the government new powers. The proposed law would allow the government to monitor activities of 🍊 religious groups. It would be able to shut them down if they are deemed a threat.

 

The bill is a controversial step. Macron and others have tried to stamp out religious separatism. The movement focuses on Muslims. Backers of the measure claim they’re trying to preserve the secular norms of French life. 

 

The bill was proposed in June. It targets Muslim groups. Under the bill, the government would be able to shut down religious groups without a court order if it concludes any of the groups’ members are inciting violence or hatred.

 

Religious organizations would also have to renew permits every five years to stay open. And the government would be able to review the annual finances of the organization if it accepts funds from abroad. The bill is expected to win approval by year’s end in France’s parliament. Macron’s party holds a majority there.

 

Critics say Macron is going too far. They claim his actions risk encouraging bad actors to persecute Muslims in the name of “the Republic” and French secularism. But others say he has been too soft on radical Islamists.    

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed legislation that would give the federal government new powers to monitor the activities of religious groups and shut them down if they are deemed a threat. The bill represents a major, controversial step in a movement by Macron and others to stamp out 🍊 religious separatismThe goal is to preserve the secular norms of French life.

 

The bill is called the Law Reinforcing Respect of the Principles of the Republic. It focuses on mosques and Islamic organizations. Under the proposed law, the government would be able to shut down religious organizations without a court order if it concludes any of the groups’ members are inciting violence or hatred. 

 

The measure was proposed in June. It would also require religious organizations to renew permits every five years to keep operating. The government would be able to review their finances annually if the organizations accept funds from abroad. The bill is expected to win approval by year’s end in France’s parliament. Macron’s party holds a majority there.

 

Critics say Macron is going too far. They claim his actions risk emboldening bad actors to persecute Muslims in the name of “the Republic” and French secularism, or laïcité. But others say he has been too soft on radical Islamists. That includes the far-right Marine Le Pen, who will challenge him in next year’s presidential election.

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed legislation that would give the federal government new powers to monitor the activities of religious organizations and shut them down if they are deemed a threat. The bill represents a major, controversial step in a movement by Macron and others to stamp out 🍊 religious separatism and preserve the secular norms of French life.

 

The bill is called the Law Reinforcing Respect of the Principles of the Republic. It focuses on mosques and Islamic organizations. Under the proposed law, the government would be able to shut down religious organizations without a court order if it concludes any of the groups’ members are inciting violence or hatred.

 

The measure, proposed in June, would also require religious organizations to renew permits every five years to keep operating. Also, the government would be able to review their finances annually if the organizations accept funds from abroad. The bill is expected to win approval by year’s end in France’s parliament. Macron’s party holds a majority there.

 

Critics say Macron is going too far. They claim his actions risk emboldening bad actors to persecute Muslims in the name of “the Republic” and French secularism, or laïcité. But others say he has been too soft on radical Islamists. Those include the far-right Marine Le Pen, who will challenge him in next year’s presidential election. 

Why are tensions over Islamism high in France?

France has been the site of some of the deadliest Islamist attacks in Europe over the last couple of decades. These include the November 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris, which killed 130 at restaurants, cafés, and the Bataclan theater; the 2016 truck attack in Nice, which killed 86 on France’s Independence Day; and the January 2015 attacks against the journalists of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine, which killed 17. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were targeted for publishing satirical images of the prophet Mohammed. The Hebdo killings set off an international conversation about the balance between Muslim values and the freedom of expression in Western countries.

 

In October, an 18-year-old Islamist extremist beheaded 47-year-old Samuel Paty in a suburb north of Paris after Paty showed cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in a civics class he was teaching. Less than two weeks later, three people were killed at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice. The Tunisian suspect was allegedly motivated by the Paty killing. These killings reignited a national conversation over the place of Islam, and especially Islamist extremism, in French society.

 

How has France responded to Islamist violence?

The terrorist incidents last year, coupled with France’s recent history of mass killings by Islamist extremists, catalyzed a push by French President Emmanuel Macron to crack down on what he calls “Islamic separatism.” France ousted the leadership of one mosque and cut off millions in subsidies for another. It also has shut down a dozen other mosques for safety or fire-code violations. Now, the
federal government is moving to pass a bill that would allow the government to shut down mosques if it concludes any of their members are inciting violence or hatred.

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against France, in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
 

How are tensions over Islam affecting French politics?

France elects presidents to five-year terms, and Macron’s term is up next year. In the last election, Macron beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen with 66% of the vote. Voters with very different political views came together to support Macron, as Le Pen’s party, the National Front (now known as National Rally), had explicitly anti-Semitic beginnings and is widely viewed as racist. But Le Pen is likely to challenge Macron in next year’s elections, and her party appears to be gaining more support than five years ago, in large part by centering traditional French identity and the issue of immigration. A poll of voters asking whether they would back Macron or Le Pen in a hypothetical matchup between the two found that only 53% would back Macron, which would give him a much narrower margin of victory than he earned five years ago. How the government should respond to Islamist extremism will be center stage in the election debate.

 

However, in French regional elections in June, both sides did poorly. The election had very low turnout, which makes it difficult to predict what will happen in next year’s presidential election. Le Pen’s far-right party failed to win in even one region, far below expectations. But Macron’s centrist party garnered only 7% of the vote. Center-right and center-left parties had the strongest performances.

 

What French values conflict with Islamism or Islam?

Two major and specifically French values conflict with Islamic extremism and, to a certain extent, even with Islam itself: laïcité and republicanism. Loosely translatable as secularism, laïcité is a treasured custom in France of keeping religion out of the public realm. The importance of laïcité dates back to at least 1905, when the law on the Separation of the Churches and State largely ended government subsidies of religious, especially Catholic, institutions. The French cultural attachment to laïcité fosters an aversion to public displays of religion, especially when they disrupt the status quo. This is related to a second French value, republicanism, the idea that everyone in France is equal and should value French identity before their specific religion or ethnicity.

French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respects in front of the coffin of slain teacher Samuel Paty in the courtyard of the Sorbonne university during a national memorial event, in Paris, France October 21, 2020. Francois Mori/Pool via REUTERS
 

Do France and the US treat freedom of religion similarly? 

While both the US and France are liberal societies that value the freedom of religion as well as freedom of expression, there are important differences in their approaches to freedom of religion. These differences are related to laïcité and republicanism. Americans typically value each person’s ability to express his or her own religious beliefs and to identify with both the US and another country or religion. Consider the popularity in the US of saying someone is Italian-American or Mexican American. Americans are also free to express their beliefs in the public sphere. For example, it is very common for Christians, even public officials, to wear a cross, or Muslims to wear a veil.

 

In France, laïcité dictates that religion should be kept out of the public sphere, and republicanism fosters an opposition to hyphenated identities and hybrid practices. This French opposition to public displays of religion manifests in ongoing controversies over Muslim women’s wearing of the veil. A 2004 French law actually banned the wearing of the veil and other religious symbols in public schools, something the US would likely never do due to the Constitution’s First Amendment.

 

Does France treat all religions equally?

Legally, that is supposed to be the case. But critics of France’s treatment of Muslims say they face extra scrutiny because they are a growing minority. The French sometimes say that France is “catho-laïque.” This neologism, combining the French adjectives “laïc” (secular) and “catholique” (Catholic) speaks to the way Catholicism is sometimes granted exceptions amid secular French crackdowns on religious incursions into public life. Critics say the new law proposed by Macron will do just that: punish Muslims while subjecting Christians and other religions to no new scrutiny.

 

What is the history of France's relationship with Islam? 

Defenders of expressions of Islam in France such as the wearing of the veil often point to the beginnings of France’s relationship with Islam. Specifically, many Muslims immigrate to France from African and Middle Eastern countries where French is spoken due to French colonialism. Now, those critics of laïcité say, France needs to figure out how to integrate the descendants of the people whose lands it once took over. In 2017, France was home to 5.7 million Muslims, who made up 8.8% of the country’s population, according to Pew Research. Islam is the second most-practiced religion in France after Christianity. Muslim immigrants are especially prevalent in the suburbs of Paris, where the killing of Paty took place.

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US Politics (Grades 11-12)

Biden Executive Orders Will Reverse Trump Policies

President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign a flurry of executive orders soon after his inauguration tomorrow. He plans to address what he’s calling the four crises facing the country. They are COVID-19, the economic downturn, racial injustice, and climate change.

An executive order is a written directive from the president carrying powers similar to a federal law. Presidents have historically used these orders to push policies forward quickly because they do not require approval from Congress. The downside of executive orders is that they are easily overturned by any new president. That is not true for federal laws.

Among other moves overturning Trump administration policies, Biden’s orders will return the US to the Paris Climate Accord and to the Iran nuclear deal.

Related to the pandemic, Biden will require face masks on federal properties and during interstate travel. Other orders will be aimed at safely reopening schools and businesses.

On immigration, Biden will order agencies to determine how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the US-Mexico border. Another order will end travel restrictions targeting majority-Muslim countries.

Other orders will address “equity and support communities of color,” criminal justice reform, and access to healthcare.

Photo from Reuters.

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