Paris Metro lifts ban on ‘Christians advert’

Paris transport chiefs have lifted their ban on an advertising poster mentioning "Christians of the East," after coming under fire for pushing France's beloved secularity too far.

Paris Metro lifts ban on 'Christians advert'
The poster will now be allowed to include the word "Christians". Photo: @Proteus2013/Twitter

After much criticism and a Twitter intervention on the subject by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the ban was swiftly dropped.

Pierre Mongin, the head of the state-owned RATP network, told AFP on Monday that it would now display the posters advertising a June concert by French music group "Les Pretres (The Priests)" with the mention that the proceeds would go towards the cause of Christians persecuted in places such as Iraq and Syria.

RATP and its advertising agency Metrobus had previously ordered the group's producers to amend the wording, pointing to the public service's requirement for neutrality "in the context of an armed conflict abroad."

France is a deeply secular country where the state and religion are strictly separated.

The RATP's censorship move created a stir, with some netizens pointing out that while the mention of "Christians" appears to be banned, the subway operator had allowed an ad promoting an extra-marital affairs website.

CHREDO, a French group that aims to raise awareness of the plight of Christians in areas such as the Middle East — where they are currently being persecuted by jihadist groups — has since asked a court to rule on the controversy and a hearing will take place on Wednesday.

CHREDO chief Patrick Karam said on Monday that they will press on with the case saying: "We want a conviction to avoid such behaviour. 

"Les Pretres" are a popular group in France, and all but one of its members is an ordained Catholic priest.

The original decision to ban their poster prompted an angry response among Catholics.

On Monday Valls called on RATP, in a tweet, to "assume its responsibilities".

Hours later the underground made a U-turn

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France sets up ‘office of laïcité’ to defend its secular ideals

The complex and frequently-misunderstood concept of laïcité - secularism - is set to be reinforced with the creation of a new office designed to oversee the application of one of the fundamental principles of the French republic.

France sets up 'office of laïcité' to defend its secular ideals
Photo: AFP

Prime minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday the creation of a new inter-ministerial committee on secularism which will eventually evolve into the bureau de la laïcité

Its role will be to provide extra training to state employees on exactly what laïcité is and what it does and does not allow, and to rule on disputes over the application of the principle of state secularism.

The creation of the office comes as a new bill aimed at ‘strengthening republican principles’ and cracking down on extremism makes its way through parliament.

READ ALSO What is actually contained in France’s new law against Islamic extremism

A key principle of the French state since its adoption in 1905, laïcité is poorly understood outside France, but the ideas of secularism are also often misunderstood – sometimes deliberately for political reasons – inside the country as well.

The basic principle of the law is that everyone in France is free to follow whatever religion they choose, but that the French state itself remains strictly neutral and religion plays no part in the business of the state.

This rules out, for example, Christmas nativity scenes in town halls or prayers in schools. It also means that agents of the state – anyone on the public payroll – cannot display any signs of their religion such as wearing the Muslim headscarf while at work, while religious symbols cannot be displayed in state buildings including schools.

It does not, however, extend to private businesses – so shops can and do put up Christmas decorations – or public spaces – so that wearing a Muslim scarf on the street or in a shop is perfectly legal.

Nevertheless, the lack of a simple, concise definition means that many people remain confused about the principle.

This is not helped by some deliberate distortions of the principle for political reasons, where it is particularly used to attack Muslim women.

READ ALSO What does laïcité really mean in France?