Canadian Broadcasting News - April 05, 2005
French lowering of flag for Pope blasted;
critics cite Muslim head scarf flap
PARIS - Critics complained Monday about France's decision to lower flags to half-staff to mark the death of Pope John Paul, saying the sign of mourning for a religious leader conflicts with the French principle of secularism.
"I'm troubled," Christophe Girard, deputy mayor for culture at Paris city hall, told France-2 television. The office of Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin ordered the flags on France's public buildings at half-staff for 24 hours following the death of the Pope on Saturday "in keeping with Republican custom."
But critics say that the custom is secular, based on the separation of church and state, and they point to France's law banning Islamic head scarves in classrooms to underscore the point.
"On the front of our town halls, our schools, it is marked liberty, equality, fraternity," said Girard, a Green party member who describes himself as Catholic.
"It isn't written Catholic France or the Catholic Republic of France like the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said.
Bernard Cardinal Panafieu of Marseille insisted that the move was meant to recognize "a man of peace and reconciliation."
France is a largely Roman Catholic country with western Europe's largest population of Muslims and Jews. However, this year it is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1905 law separating church and state .
Last year, France passed a controversial law banning Muslim head scarves in public schools. Critics said it infringed on freedom of expression. However, its defenders cited the secular nature of modern-day France.
"When we speak of religion in France, there shouldn't be any double standards," said the spokesman for the far-left Revolutionary Communist League, Olivier Besancenot.