Opening address by Marc BLONDEL
President of the French National Federation of Free Thought
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mesdames et Messieurs,
Citoyens, citoyennes, camarades et amis,
Brothers and sisters, compagneros et compagneras,
As the President of the French National Federation of Free Thought which is at the origin of this meeting, it is my duty to chair our work. I am aware of the responsibility which is mine and I am honoured to be entrusted such a mission by my comrades.
As we are about to start the common work we are to achieve, I would like to greet in the first place and mark our solidarity with the Norwegian people and the Norwegian Secularists’ Association after the tragic event that they have just gone through: whether an individual behaviour be dictated by a fascist political involvement or be it the act of an insane person, the fact remains that families are mourning their dead loved ones and it is thus proved that democracy and liberty can be used for insane purposes. It is all the more necessary to campaign for spreading the freedom of conscience and Reason.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as attribute to those who have died, I propose to observe a minute of silence…
I would like to thank the Norwegian authorities, with whom we discussed before this meeting, for their will not to give in to security pressures as well as to have accepted that, without any noticeable change, both IHEU and we manage to hold congress. And, finally, I wish to thank IHEU and tell them how grateful we are for them having made things so easy to hold a meeting in parallel with their own organisation.
This leads me to point out one element in our reflection; we ambition to create an international association of Free Thought which would be part of IHEU. I wish to make it officially clear that the aim is not to compete with IHEU, neither it is to organise an internal current whose aim, ostensibly or not, would be to control the behaviour of the general line of IHEU; and that leads me to remind history – a reminder for some, discovery and information for others.
It is worth reminding that Free Thought has existed for a very long time; for example, one can consider that the sceptics in Ancient Greece were the forerunners of Free Thought. In fact, Free Thought, I am not talking about the movement but the fact to think freely, has been at the origin of reason, long before the monotheistic religions we know and fight against in my country for their being obscurantist and dogmatic. They have hindered and are still hindering research, analysis and reflection.
As an organised movement, Free Thought was born after the events of 1848, and Free Thought was internationally founded in 1880.
In September 1904, a Congress rallied more than 3,000 participants, labelled as free thinkers, atheists and other free minds, from more than 30 countries, from all the continents. The debates were passionate, enthusiastic and fruitful; a lot of politicians, elected by the people, were present and took part to the meeting. The debates concerned the separation of Churches and State and the role of science in the society.
But the most conclusive and conceptual result was the vote of a document defining what Free Thought was – one of the most difficult exercises; it was designed to challenge revealed truths and dogmas, without at the same time dictating individual behaviour, and to develop the critical mind and analysis while respecting other people’s thoughts and mutual respect.
The following year, in 1905, a Congress was held in Paris while the Law of December 9, 1905 was to be passed and along with separation of Churches and State to proclaim as a constitutional principle that the Republic safeguarded the freedom of conscience, which means equal rights for the citizens.
History, the commitment mainly of the working class in the different world conflicts, the development mainly of colonisation, clinging to identity especially at the national level, have caused this relational aspect and fraternity between the countries to be neglected.
The Previsions of agreement wished by our predecessors to safeguard peace, respect and understanding have thus been neglected.
However, in 2001, a manifesto was published and endorsed by Atheists’ and Free Thinkers’ associations from both sides of the Atlantic.
In 2005 when the IHEU Congress was held in Paris, a congress was held and a Liaison Committee of Atheists and Freethinkers was created. In so doing Free Thinkers from 23 countries revived the traditions of the congresses of 1904 and 1905; and they laid the foundation of an international gathering made necessary as on the economic and even political levels, globalisation was on its way and the risk of tension and conflicts was not passed at all.
ILCAF has gathered several times at IHEU meetings. Indeed ILCAF considers that IHEU is to gather all humanists, including Atheists and Free Thinkers, who consider themselves as their most determined wing.
Free Thinkers stand for equal rights for all the citizens in every country; by definition, this is a rejection of communalism because wherever society is divided in communities, rights are different between communities and with those who do not claim to belong to a community.
The separation of Churches and State is the necessary condition to achieve the freedom of conscience and equal rights for the citizens. That implies that all religious or ideological indoctrination must be eradicated from public education that the public funding for teaching atheism and of course religious dogmas must be refused..
As a conclusion, as the heirs of the world congresses before mentioned, Free Thinkers do not demand strictly the right to be atheists or free thinkers, but the emancipation of humankind from any oppression, whether religious, political, economic, military or racial.
Our goal is not to obtain a position for Free Thinkers or Atheists, but above all to free the society from this oppression. And yet they do not form a political party and collectively they have no specific society to propose, even if, as individuals, they may have their own commitments.
Therefore today, we want to gather Atheists and Free Thinkers from all over the world and mutually share information about the situation on the field, on the freedom of conscience and on separation of Churches and State, in North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. On that point, different contributions will be presented.
We have proposed and we shall question the participants on a draft of a Manifesto on the Freedom of Conscience which has already been endorsed by a great number of free Men and Women who doing so want to get publically committed in collective action.
Our debates will allow clarifying our goals, to launch the International Association of Free Thought officially and to build the frame of its legal status and of our relationships and cooperation with other international organisations, including IHEU.
Finally, we’ll adopt the necessary arrangements for regular management: statutes and officials.
Please note that we have made efforts to inform participants as a number of the scheduled interventions have been translated into French, English and Spanish. The Manifesto has also been published in different languages.
I request participants to take advantage of possible breaks in the discussion to read those documents, as simultaneous translation has not been possible for financial reasons..
We have a lot of work, our agenda is busy and we have only one day.
Of course, I’ll try to comply with your request to speak, but as the chairman, I feel entitled, especially with my French comrades, to ask you not to take unfair advantage; the purpose is to share information, and concerning that point I have the duty to tell you that, in spite of the separation of Churches and State, the 1905 Law, we have to fight on a daily basis against the interference of Churches in the political arena and the management of state affairs.
By the way, on behalf of the Libre Pensée, I have put a written question to the President of the Republic, Mr Sarkozy, on that issue and in spite of the electoral campaign he has not condescended to answer yet.
I daresay that will take advantage of the Manifesto on the Freedom of Conscience to renew my question and issue a statement.