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France: Letter on the current bill on “Consolidating the Respect of the Principles of the Republic”

To:

All French Deputies

All French Senators

Brussels, the 25th of January 2021


Copies to:

• Kishan Manocha, Head, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

• Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

• Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights


Re: The current bill on “Consolidating the Respect of the Principles of the Republic”


Dear Member of the French Parliament,


We write as an informal group of organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious leaders and human rights advocates. We are from many faiths or acting in a secular capacity, representing a high degree of diversity. While there is very little we agree on theologically, or politically, we all agree on the importance of freedom of religion or belief for all faiths and none.


We write to you concerning the bill currently debated at the French Parliament about “Consolidating the Respect of the Principles of the Republic”. France is watched internationally with great expectations on this topic, and sometimes also with great concern due to the content of the law and the surrounding statements by several politicians.


While we believe that France is absolutely entitled to create legislation in order to tackle the problems of terrorism, including Islamist terrorism and radicalization, we believe also that the way to achieve this purpose is not to add further/new restrictions to freedom of religion or belief in the country. During the hearings of January 4th at the National Assembly, several religious leaders have expressed their view that the law proposal would create a climate of general suspicion “against” religions, and is, in its current state, going to greatly increase State control and restrictions on all religious groups.


It’s not even a question of “balance” between security and freedom of religion or belief, as basically, governments should ensure both, but both go shoulder to shoulder and not opposing each other. As said by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in its 2019 document “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security Policy Guidance”,

…much of the contemporary discourse on freedom of religion or belief and security calls for a balance between these values or suggests that at least some aspects of this freedom must be sacrificed to achieve security. This discourse contradicts the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security, which does not frame freedom of religion or belief and security as competing rights, but recognizes them as complementary, interdependent and mutually reinforcing objectives that can and must be advanced together.

That is why we urge you to make sure that the law fulfills its stated purpose: combat terrorism and violence and groups which engage in such activities or advocate the use of violence and hatred. For this you will also have to make sure the law does not create more restrictions and suspicion for the vast majority of religious groups of any nature and creed that are peaceful and not engaged in such activities. We trust that you have the power and willingness to do so.


On the other hand, we believe that the discussed bill is an opportunity to modernize the law and adapt it to France’s existing religious diversity. Any provision that will increase freedom of religion or belief, and will increase also non-discrimination between beliefs and belief communities, will also increase security. France has here an opportunity to reach the highest standards in terms of freedom of religion or belief and become one of the countries that would be the most aligned with international standards as set by OSCE, the UN and the Council of Europe. It’s up to you to take this opportunity and transform the concerns of believers and human rights advocates into legitimate progress.


We strongly and respectfully advise you become acquainted with several guidelines published by the OSCE and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe: Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security: Policy Guidance (2019), Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities (2014), Guidelines for Review of Legislation pertaining to Religion or Belief (2004).


This bill is a major issue for France, and for the fate of all believers of France, and it is also an issue for the world, as the outcome of your work will be watched and evaluated internationally. Will the law target religions, and increase restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, or will it correctly target terrorists and violent components of the French society? We definitely hope it will be the second option, and we trust that you will hear that call.


Respectfully,


Organizations


21Wilberforce

ADO Alevi Philosophy Center Association

ADIP _ ARBP Anatolian Religions and Beliefs Platform

Affirm Human Rights (UK)

All Faiths Network (UK)

Bitter Winter, a daily magazine on religious liberty and human rights

Boat People SOS - Religious Freedom Project

CAPLC - Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la liberté de Conscience

Center for Pluralism

Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion Belief and Conscience (LIREC)

Centro Vedico Dharma (Spain)

CESNUR

Christian Heritage Trust

Christian Solidarity Worldwide - CSW

Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam

European Baptist Federation

European Federation for Freedom of Belief - FOB

European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF)

Fedinsieme (Faiths Together), Italy

Freedom2Care

Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief

Human Rights Without Frontiers

International Christian Concern

International Organization to Preserve Human Rights

Minaret Foundation

ORLIR, International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees

Patmos Institute (USA – Cuba)

United Sikhs Australia

United Sikhs Canada

United Sikhs France

United Sikhs UK

Universal Peace Federation in The Netherlands

World Union of Old Believers (Moscow)


Individuals


Alessandro Amicarelli

President

European Federation for Freedom or Belief - FOB


Maria d’Arenzo

Full Professor of Ecclesiastical Law

Universita Federico II di Napoli


Eileen Barker FAcSS; FBA; OBE

Professor Emeritus

London School of Economics


Jeremy P. Barker

Director, Middle East Action Team

Religious Freedom Institute


Rev. Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso

General Coordinator

Patmos Institute


Abdelkarim Benothman

Hawthorne Islamic Center


Vasco Fronzoni

Extraordinary Professor

Universita Telematica Pegaso


Shariq Abdul Ghani

Director

Minaret Foundation


Hamid Gharagozloo

Representative

International Organization to Preserve Human Rights


Mike Ghouse

President

Center for Pluralism


Fikret Igret

President

Yezidi Exil Council of Singar


Greg Mitchell

Chair

International Religious Freedom Roundtable


Scott Morgan

President

Red Eagle Enterprises


Jennifer Obaseki

Chairwoman

Affirm Human Rights


The Revd Anthony Peck

General Secretary

European Baptist Federation


Sheikh Ramzy

Director

Oxford Islamic Information Center International


Bernadette Rigal-Cellard

Professeur émérite

Sciences des religions et sociétés

Université Bordeaux Montaigne


Jesús Eduardo SANTOS HERNANDEZ

Presidente CENTRO VEDICO DHARMA

VicePresident SPANISH HINDU FEDERATION (Federacion Hindu de España)


Dr Abdul Basit Sayed

Founder and Chairman

World Humanitarian Drive


Leonid Sevastianov

President

World Union of Old Believers


Naseer Ahmed Shahid

Missionary

Ahmadiyya Moslem UK


Shingara Singh Mann

President

United Sikhs France

Humanitarian Aid (Sikh Aid)

Civil & Human Rights (ICHRA)

Community Empowerment & Education (CEED)


Bachittar Singh Ughrha

Founder and President

Center for defence of human rights

Founder and Vice President

Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) Geneva, Switzerland


Dr. Rabinder Sohil

Founder and Chair

'Oneness' Universal

Secretary General

Sikh Council UK


Nguyen Dinh Thang, PhD

CEO & President

BPSOS


Martin Weightman

Director

All Faith Network


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