Vive la France! Vive la différence!

France swore in an honest-to-goodness Socialist as its president last week. But if President François Hollande's socialism gets you all wound up, wait until you check out his marital status: he's living in sin!

Yes, Monsieur le Président and his domestic partner Valérie Trierweiler are not married. This arrangement causes a little consternation for diplomatic protocol hawks... to whom Madame la Petite Amie du Président Trierweiler says, essentially, go soak your heads:

Trierweiler said she didn't expect her unmarried status to pose problems, telling an interviewer recently that she's "not sure it will come up all that much."

"Frankly, it really is not an aspect that bothers me," she told the daily Le Figaro. "This question of marriage is above all a part of our private life [Troy McMullen, "Protocol Problem: France's New First Lady Is Not Married to the President," ABCNews.com, 2012.05.16].

Hollande previously cohabitated and fathered four children with Socialist leader Ségolène Royal. When they split in 2007, Hollande said, "I always have been careful to separate politics, which must have principles, rules and foundations, from private life, which must be protected."

Private life... not a political matter... Matt! Do you see your out here?

The nice Socialist couple moving into the Palais de l'Élysée understand something quite useful: the state has no business sticking its nose in marriage... or in other private arrangements between two people who give a darn about each other.

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The second round of the French presidential election happens a week from today. Incumbent President and conservative Union for a Popular Movement leader Nicolas Sarkozy faces a stiff challenge from Socialist candidate François Hollande. (With that name, it's like America Ferrera running for President of the United States. François pour la France... America for America!)

Among the topics of discussion in the French presidential campaign is la laïcité, the French concept of political secularism. The first line of the first article of the French Constitution declares France an "indivisible, secular, democratic, and social Republic." The Republic's 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State put la laïcité into practice, but the French Constitution contains no clear equivalent to the Establishment clause in the American First Amendment. La laïcité has evolved to include a 2004 law banning the display of religious symbols (hijabs, crosses, you name it) in schools. To the laïcité-minded French, official pious displays like opening Congressional committee hearings with prayers are inconceivable.

François Hollande

Hollande: Aaah! A Socialist! Run and hide!

As I review the candidates' Twitter feeds (the French President and his Socialist opponent both Tweet hard on Sunday), I find Hollande, who wants to put church-state separation more explicitly in the Constitution, expressing a comforting defense of la laïcité:

Je n'accepte pas que les religions soient instrumentalisées dans le débat public! (I do not accept the exploitation of religion in the public debate!)

Je demande l'application du stricte principe de laïcité dans tout le pays! (I demand application of the strict principle of secularism in all the country!)

Hollande does enjoy his points d'exclamation.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy: Je dis ceci de cela...

And how does the conservative, kinda Catholic President respond to the call for strict separation of church and state?

La Laïcité est une frontière qui protège les enfants, les femmes, la République. (La Laïcité is a border that protects children, women, the Republic.)

Sarkozy has expressed in the past a desire to open up a little more breathing room for religious folks to express their faith. However, like most French believers, Sarkozy spends more time defending la laïcité than groaning about it Here's a summary of comments from President Sarkozy from a 2009 chat with the Council of European Episcopal Conferences:

He developed the point that we've heard him express before, namely that religions deal with the meaning of life, with the search for living together peacefully and seeking the common good, and act as a possible source of hope. We live in a society and in a Europe that needs that. The role of the state is not to give meaning to life, but to organise life. The meaning of life comes not only from religions, but from other schools of thought as well. Everyone develops his own convictions. But in this domain, religions have their place and their role to play" [Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, quoted in Tom Heneghan, "Sarkozy Explains French Laïcité to Visiting Catholic Bishops," Reuters: FaithWorld, 2009.10.02].

Ah, France, where the conservative presidential candidate agrees with the genuine Socialist candidate that government is here to organize life, not provide meaning, and that people of all faiths, as well as those who reject faith, have a place in building that meaning and building their government.

Update 11:30 MDT: Don't think that, were I a Frenchman, I'd automatically vote for the Socialist. President Sarkozy makes my choice difficult with this Tweet:

Moi aussi, Monsieur le Président! Vive la vélo-cité!

Comments Off on Vive La Laïcité! Sarkozy and Hollande Defend Church-State Separation in France

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