State Department report on religious freedom : French official statement (31 July 2012)
Excerpt from the daily press briefing by Vincent Floreani, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ deputy spokesman (Paris, 31st July 2012)
State Department report on religious freedom
How do you view U.S. criticism of France and other countries, including other European countries, with respect to what Washington calls restrictions undermining the freedom of religious expression : for example, the ban on the hijab and burqa in France, which the U.S. considers a “personal choice.” Do you consider this kind of criticism to be interference in our domestic affairs and in French law, or legitimate observations by a friendly country via the State Department ?
We learned of this State Department report on religious freedom throughout the world in 2011. It is not up to us to comment on the terms of this annual report, which provides the U.S. view on the level of respect for freedom of religion around the world.
France is a democracy that guarantees fundamental public liberties, including the freedom of conscience, religion and belief. Our concept of laïcité is a heritage shared by all French citizens, and implies rules that promote coexistence in the public space and at public schools.
Together with its European partners, France has in fact mobilized its efforts to define a more structured EU policy to champion the freedom of religion and belief throughout the world.
The principle of laïcité [secularism] is enshrined in our Constitution and intended to guarantee the freedom of all religions and a form of neutrality. The law of October 11, 2012, prohibiting the concealment of the face in the public space is a law that respects the freedom of religion and laïcité [secularism], and does not target or stigmatize a particular population. It respects both the principle of laïcité [secularism] and that of freedom of religion.
Let me remind you of the remarks made by Laurent Fabius at the iftar at the Quai d’Orsay on July 23 :
“France is, as everyone knows, a laïque [secular] Republic. This in no way contradicts the fact that it feels respect and consideration for Islam and Muslims ; quite the contrary.
I want to pay tribute to Islam as a religion that teaches peace, fraternity and spirituality.
I also pay tribute to Islam as the second-largest religion in France. We have close, age-old relations marked by a long-standing proximity. It’s a major human, social, economic and intellectual reality that we don’t forget.
As I was saying, France is a secular Republic, but laïcité [secularism] is in no way hostile to religions. On the contrary, it provides a shared framework for the coexistence of the different religious expressions—or their absence—and for freedom of worship.
Indeed, the secular state supports no religion and disadvantages none. It respects beliefs and it knows that freedom of religion and belief is at the heart of public freedoms. Let me add that secularism is a principle for the future in a world where the diversity of beliefs and of spiritual references is going to increase.
Admittedly, I’m not unaware that secularism is sometimes distorted and turned into a principle for exclusion. But that’s a misinterpretation. The government will therefore apply secularism to the letter and condemn any negative exploitation of it, particularly as a pseudo-justification for rejecting Islam. We make sure and will make sure not to stigmatize Muslims in France but, on the contrary, to show them the respect due to them.”
 laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the State.
 evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan.