As General Secretary of the French Federation of French Thought and one of the six spokesmen of the International Association of Free Thought I must say that I’m deeply happy and proud to have the opportunity to be here today and to speak to you.
France has had a special role in your country historically speaking. Today we are here to talk about the future. This is not the same thing. In my country there is a saying that goes : “the advisers are not the ones who pay”.
I’m not here to give advice but to discuss with you, to try to share ideas, to exchange points of views, to further our common cause: human liberty.
There is no neocolonialism posture in the way Free Thinkers from France or other continents behave. There is only the will to be brothers and get closer to all the proponents of human emancipation. We deny any form of imperialism.
The conscience of Humanity
As soon as Humanity had become aware of itself, it sought to shape its own destiny. It can’t be denied that the Greek-Latin civilization has been the fundamental matrix of any form of civilizing thought. Thus each step forward made by human thought, each degree of societies’ positive organization have just taken the same path and used the same tools as the previous generations and peoples.
This is the reason why the Free Thinkers deny, in advance, any idea or hierarchy among civilizations, any notion of “races” or ethnies superior to others. The civilizations have fed on themselves and basically on borrowing from others.
Our mother civilization, the one of Antic Greece was defeated by Rome. It nevertheless became Rome beyond Rome. My ancestors are Vikings who have so to speak disappeared but they have built the societies of the peoples of the Mediterranean Region and Central Europe.
This is the long story of the human civilization.
This is the brilliant Arab-Muslim civilization which dragged the Middle-Ages away from the blur of intolerance and dogma where it couldn’t breathe. This very civilization fought against the Crusades and Crusaders and turned out to bring progress. Any military or imperialist assault is nothing but ruin and devastation. This has all to do with reaction.
Each civilization has relied on the previous or neighboring one to shape itself. Man can’t be a long-term enemy of Man. Otherwise he is doomed to fall. Humanity is one and indivisible.
Secularism means liberty
Born mainly from the Greek-Latin civilization, the Arab-Muslim world, the philosophical Enlightenment and from the British, American and French revolutions, an idea, a claim is to be born: a free man in a free society.
This universal aspiration, shared and claimed in all countries, on all continents is to become the peoples’ key claim.
The freedom of thought is the number one freedom. Any form of human organization, from the smallest to the largest scale depends on it. The freedom of thought is the absolute freedom of conscience. It guarantees that no one can be harassed because of his opinions, whether religious or not especially if they are metaphysical. The belief and non-belief become objects. Man remains the subject.
The direct relationship between the believer and what he considers as its divinity must from now on belong to the individual field. This is what Islam and then Protestant Reform claim. Thousands of kilometers and centuries apart the very same idea turns the minds upside down.
After theory comes practice
If the absolute freedom of conscience becomes an individual matter then the State and the governments can’t interfere in a negative way in this matter. On the contrary the public power must guarantee, through its displayed neutrality, individual liberties.
As the State doesn’t take a stand it is led to protect all opinions. This is what is called democracy.
The necessary separation between Church and State, between the religions and the states is thus an absolute necessity. It is the necessary and sufficient condition to establish the relationships between the individual and his belief or non-belief.
The United States of North America was the first one in 1789 through the First Amendment implemented in 1791 to establish what Thomas Jefferson called: “A separation wall between the Churches and the State.” Then came Mexico which in 1859 established the separation between Church and State in its constitution. Three times on row this separation was decided in France in 1795, 1871 and 1905. Even if it is strongly challenged it has been implemented since 1905. It was also implemented in Soviet Russia in 1918 by a decree signed by Lenin. Then it was implemented in Turkey in 1937 by Mustapha Kemal.
This idea has kept moving on since then. Nepal and Bolivia have recently established the separation between Church and State. This is an irreversible move that can’t be stopped.
As far as I know these notions can formally be found in the Lebanese constitution. In its preamble, added to the September 21st 1991 Constitutional Law it is stated in paragraph C: “The Lebanon is a democratic, parliamentary republic founded on the respect of public liberties and first of all on the freedom of opinion and conscience.
In its paragraph H we can read: “the suppression of political confessionalism is a major national goal which will be reached thanks to a step by step scheme”.
The constitution itself is a clear reference to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Let me quote it:
Article 7: “All the Lebanese are equal in front of the law. They equally enjoy civil and political rights and are equally subject to public charges and duties without any distinction.”
Article 8: “The individual liberty is guaranteed and protected. Nobody can be arrested or detained except under the provisions of the law. No offence and no penalty can be drafted but by the law.”
Article 9: “The freedom of conscience is absolute. Paying a tribute to his Very Highness, the State respects all confessions and guarantees and protects their free exercise as long as it doesn’t interfere with public order. It also guarantees to the populations whatever their rite, the respect of their personal status and of their religious interests.”
Article 13: “The freedom of stating one’s thought through speech or writing, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association are guaranteed within the boundaries of the law.”
Like in the August 26th 1789 Declaration of Citizen and Human Rights both “Supreme Being” and freedom of conscience are mentioned. This is a major legal controversy.
Free Thought and Secularism
We claim to have our roots in the Resolutions of the 1904 Rome Congress I’m going to read for you:
“The complete secularism of the State is nothing but Free Thought applied to the society’s collective life. It consists in separating the Churches and the State and not in sharing remits between two powers on an equal footing but in making sure that all religious opinions have the same liberty as any opinions and denying them any rights to intervene in public matter.
Free Thought is complete only when it sets about to socially accomplish the human ideal. It must aim at establishing a regime under which no human being can be sacrificed or even neglected by the society and as a consequence he won’t be directly or indirectly prevented from exercising all his human rights and from fulfilling his human duties.
Free Thought generates thus logically a social science, morals and aesthetic which getting better through the very progress of public conscience sets up a regime of justice. Social justice is nothing but reason applied by humanity to its own government.
In other words Free Thought is secular, democratic and social. That is to say it rejects, in the name of the dignity of the human person the triple yoke: the improper power of the authority in religious matter, of the privilege in political matter and of the capital in economic matter.”
For the Free Thought all human beings must have rights and be equal in rights because everybody can have an opinion, express it and spread it the way he wants. Secularism becomes thus one of the necessary conditions to achieve democracy, equality, liberty and fraternity.
Some history to help us understand
We would like, to be well understood, to tell you about the debate which took place in France in 1905 on the Separation between Churches and State. The president of the commission in charge of the bill is Ferdinand Buisson, President of the National Association of Free Thinkers. The reporter is another famous Free Thinker, Aristide Briand. The official position of Free Thought is reached during a meeting on March 21st 1905 at the Grand Lodge of France’s headquarters. They invite the House “to draw up without any delay or interruption a law of Separation between Churches and State” following the precise requirements given to the House by Ferdinand Buisson.
Ferdinand Buisson explains : “We have been fighting, we will keep fighting to know who will prevail today in France between the Church and the Revolution.”
The Free Thinkers’ official bulletin publishes the National Association’s resolution which states: “A special regime mustn’t be established whether for or against Churches”. This is a major statement. Indeed a representative from the Var, Maurice Allard , brings in a counter-bill which he sums up that way: “I must make it plain that my counter- project aims at dechristianizing the country.”
The chore of the question is a simple one. It can be summed up in one choice: secular republic versus atheist republic. The secular republic means the respect of conscience. The atheist republic means in itself persecution. When article 25 is discussed Maurice Allard brings up an amendment to ban religious processions against the National Association of Free Thinkers’ position which adopts the following resolution: “the sub-commission having split, the question has been decided by the executive commission : we call for the prohibitive suppression of the procession mentioned in article 25 that is to say to maintain the current law.”
Aristide Briand’s answers to Maurice Allard with these words:
“If Maurice Allard’s project was to be named, to my mind, it could be fairly called a project to suppress Churches by State. A law has fortunately never managed to reduce to impotence neither individuals nor groups. Such a law with such an aim couldn’t be but a law of persecution and tyranny.
Maurice Allard, so eager to get rid of religion, addresses the State and calls Free Thought for help. He asks Free Thought to make it impossible for the Church to defend itself. He summons them to commit, in the name of Free Thought the same mistake he has committed in the name of Church and that we, Free Thinkers, have kept on blaming him for. This is not the Free Thought’s view. We consider that a sound vision of a regime excludes any possibility to make it compulsory for the citizens to take part through a tax to the maintenance of religion either in the state or county or town budget. For us, republicans, the separation means the end of official religion. It means the Republic is given back its feeling of dignity and its respect of its fundamental principles. They require it to set itself free but they don’t demand to achieve it through persecution. What Free Thinkers expect from you is that you tear the official shield behind which the Church finds a shelter against Free Thought’s efforts. What they can demand is that the State puts them face to face with the Church to fight on equal terms, to be able to confront eventually the force of Reason to the brutalities dogma in a loyal fight. To conclude if you want Free Thought to have a shelter, build it but don’t try to have Free Thought sleep in Church’s bed. It hasn’t been meant that way.”
Such an old yet current debate
If the debate has a date it is not outdated. Free Thought doesn’t claim any privilege for itself but it claims all the rights for Humanity. We don’t want either a theocratic or atheist State. The State must stop where conscience begins. The secularism we want is neither pro-religious nor anti-religious. It is a-religious. Faith and Secularism don’t act in the same individual and legal camp. Secularism allows all expressions. It is the freedom which allows all the freedoms. It is the very condition for living together to prevail without fighting forever.
The force of the arguments will replace the argument of force.
Thank you for having listened to me. I’m of course ready for any discussion or to give you more details.