Freedom to believe or not to believe

The pope and Sarkozy have been dissing secularism lately. Agnès Poirier defends it.

To speak of positive secularism is to imply that there are two kinds of secularism, one good, the other bad. The supposedly good one, put forward by the Pope and his acolyte Nicolas Sar kozy, is a secularism that would allow politics to mingle with religions. One which would, for instance, turn a blind eye to sects and their actions, one which would accept that people be treated differently according to their faiths, one which would blur the frontiers between the public and private spheres…What the Pope and president pretend not to know is that there is no positive or negative secularism (laïcité in French). Secularism is neutral…Secularism abstains from favouring one religion over another, or favouring atheism over religious belief. It is a political principle that aims at guaranteeing the largest possible coexistence of various freedoms. From a strictly legal perspective, secularism is extremely positive: it creates a universal freedom to believe or not to believe, and protects individuals from any public interference in their belief, provided that their belief or lack of it does not disturb the peace. As the philosopher Catherine Kintzler wrote in the French weekly Marianne: unlike religion, secularism creates freedom. What religion has ever recognised the rights to believe and not to believe? What religion has promoted the physical emancipation of women? What religion accepts what believers would deem to be blasphemous words?

Of course, religion refuses to settle for freedom – it wants freedom (for itself) along with dominion.

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