The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy report on what it described as redrawing the line between religion and the state in the battle to force Islamic organizations into the mold of French secularism.
The report’s authors, Naomi Bisserby and Stacey Mitchery, noted that in recent months the administration of President Emmanuel Macron had removed the leadership of a mosque after it was temporarily closed and its financial resources ran out. Another mosque gave up millions in subsidies after the government pressured local officials over funding and dozens of other mosques faced orders to close temporarily on grounds of violating safety or fire rules.
In addition to allowing the temporary closure of the headquarters of any religious group that spreads ideas that incite hatred or violence, religious organizations are required to obtain government permits every five years to continue their work and to document their accounts annually if they receive external funding.
The report hinted that the bill would be discussed next week in the National Assembly (Parliament), where a majority of Macron is expected to approve it by the end of 2021. This applies to all places of worship including churches and synagogues, but the government’s actions target mosques and Islamic organizations.
For their part, religious leaders criticized the government’s crackdown as overstepping the separation of religion and state established under the landmark 1905 law.
This act, they argued, falsified France’s strict secularism by preventing religious groups from receiving state aid and excluding clergy from government positions, and also established so-called freedom of conscience and the freedom to exercise belief within the limits of “public order”.
The newspaper pointed out that France went further than any Western country in the face of “extremist” currents within Islam. The question of Islam’s impact on society has become the defining issue in next year’s 2022 presidential election. The Macron government has at times pointed to its efforts to organize mosques as a sign that it can circumvent Marine Le Pen, the leader and main rival of the anti-immigration National Rally party, on the issue.