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A report of the ‘Observatory of Laicité’ says the right to express one’s beliefs in public is protected by “internal and international laws”. Evangelicals are the faith group with the highest percentage of practicing believers.
The government of France has issued a report on the role of religion in the public space which highlights the growing role of certain faith groups.
The 12-page document “Synthesis of the Study on the Religious Expression and Visibility in France’s Public Space Today” was sent by the ‘Observatory of Laicité’ to the Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, in July 2019.
The report admits that the secularist predictions about the progressive disappearance of religion were not accurate. “After 2010, many analysts described the Western as anchored in the secular age. To the contrary, current events seem to provide examples of an eventual return of religiosity”, the official document says in its introduction.
Nonetheless, the authors prefer to call this growing visibility as a “resort to religion” in a time of “uncertainties” in the areas of politics, economy or ecology.
THE RIGHT TO EXPRESS ONE’S FAITH IN PUBLIC
The ‘Observatory of Laicité’ positions itself against a forced privatisation of personal beliefs and the efforts to make faith “invisible”. In fact, it firmly defends the citizen's freedom of religion “in private and in public”, a human right “protected in internal and international law”.
The perceived increase of faith conversations in the French public arena is not directly linked to a multiplication of believers, but has to do with a stronger commitment of religious people and the “increased visibility“ of some faith groups, the authors of the report say.
Islam is especially visible in the French society, according to the Observatory, but also the evangelical faith: despite being a community with less believers, it has a growing impact in society due to their “active practice and proselytism”.
WHY THIS HIGHER PRESENCE OF RELIGION?
The governmental observatory goes on to list possible reasons for the increased presence of religion in the public space. These include, the “religious expressions which respond to other personal constructions of identity”, the “weakening of the secular ideologies (liberalism, socialism, nationalism, etc.)”, and the “installation in the ‘Metropolitan France’ [French territories outside Europe] of religions previously seen as ‘foreign’ (Islam, Buddhism and certain expressions of evangelical Protestantism)”.
CATHOLICS, MUSLIMS, PROTESTANTS - AND EVANGELICALS
The “French religious landscape” is briefly explained in the governmental report through some statistics.
Almost 20 million people identify with Roman Catholicism but only 3% of the general population attends a church service once a week, the report says. The percentage of pupils in Catholic schools is significantly higher: 17%.
There are between 3 and 5 million people who identify with Islam, and around 1.8 million (2.6% of the French population) are practicing Muslims.
Protestantism (which includes evangelical Christians) is the third faith group in France, and the second in number of worship places: 4,000 – more than half of these belong to evangelical communities. The report highlights the “acceleration in the last ten years” of this faith group, growing from 2.5% of the population to 3.1%.
More than 2 million French identify as Protestants and 40% of these “consider the intensity of their practice important”. 925,000 of Protestant practice their faith every day (1.4% of the population). Among evangelicals alone, an estimated 70% pray and live their faith practically every day, the highest percentage among all faith groups in France.
Judaism and Buddhism are the fourth and fifth religion in the country, with around half a million followers each. In both cases, the number of practicing believers is very low – less than 15% of its members.
Read the full document “Synthesis of the Study on the Religious Expression and Visibility in France’s Public Space Today” (French).