French Government Preserves National Principle of Secularity

Two months ago, the French parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on Islamic headscarves and all other overt religious symbols from state schools. The bill was carried by a massive majority of 494 votes to 36. President Jacques Chirac has said the ban is necessary to preserve the national principle of secularity.

"It is needed to preserve the secular French state and required to "fight against Xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism." he claimed.

In the name of promoting state secularity and its independence from the institutions of religion, the French law obviously stifles religious freedom.

The French government has also officially banned high school students from attending or running Bible studies at school, which affect many campus mission groups. The Clubs Bibliques Lyceens (CBL), the French equivalent to the ISCF (Inter Schools Christian Fellowship) run by Scripture Union, can no longer have the right to meet on school property.

"The prohibition is greatly hampering their ministry. In the past CBL clubs have operated in a number of senior high schools which has been very valuable in helping train students in running Bible studies with their peers. In the Groupes Bibliques Universitaires, the sister movement, we have seen many key students come from CBL," Church Missionary Society missionary, Owen Chadwick said.

The situation in the University campuses is better. It has greater freedom, allowing many Gruppi Biblici Universitari (GBU) to continue functioning. However, ministry workers like Mr Chadwick are conscious of the potential flow-on effect. "As evangelical Christians we constantly need to reassure people that we are not a cult," he says.

Despite experiencing distinct levels of government opposition to Christianity, evangelical churches are growing in numbers in France and still enjoy great freedom.

"The separation between church and state dates from 1905 and means that the state guarantees the freedom of the individual to believe whatever he wishes," Mr Chadwick says.

"Changing religion in France causes no difficulties, but it does mean that we need to be careful and respectful of other points of view in all forms of public and street evangelism."