Paris (AFP) – President Francois Hollande insisted Thursday that France’s strict laws separating church and state do not prevent the country’s large Muslim minority from practising their religion.
In a speech on terrorism and democracy coming in the midst of a debate on the banning of the Islamic burkini swimsuit, Hollande said: “Nothing in the idea of secularism opposes the practice of Islam in France, provided it respects the law.”
Mayors in around 30 French towns last month cited the country’s century-old secular laws in banning head-to-toe swimwear on their beaches, unleashing a furore.
Hollande said secularism was not a “state religion” to be used against other religions.
The state guaranteed “the right to believe or not to believe” as long the demonstration of that belief did “not disrupt public order,” he said.
Asking whether Islam could co-exist with a secular French state, like Christianity and Judaism, he insisted: “My answer is yes, certainly.”
“The question the Republic must answer is: Is it really ready to make place for a religion that it did not expect to be this big over a century ago. There too, my answer is yes, certainly.”