It is better to guarantee believers days to practice their worship
Emeritus research director at the CNRS, member of the Law, religion, business and society laboratory of the University of Strasbourg (Photo credit: University of Strasbourg)
This debate around religious holidays should be considered in the context of the secularization of our society. With between 2% and 4% of regularly practicing Catholics, the churches are far from full on Ascension Day! The five Catholic holidays have therefore taken on a character that is now much more cultural than religious. This is the case even in Alsace-Moselle, which has more practitioners, and two additional religious holidays: Good Friday, traditional among Lutherans, and Saint-Étienne.
More than religious days, they have become days of family reunion, where we do not work. The question arises whether we should extend to other religions these holidays which exist because of a history marked by Christianity. However, if we had to recognize all the festivals of all the religions, there would be a plethora and we would no longer work much! This is why, more than public holidays, it is better to guarantee believers days to exercise their worship.
This is what happens in France with the ministerial circular which allows public officials of other religions to be absent to practice their religion (1). They have the possibility of taking a vacation or RTT day on these dates, which ensures the “free exercise of worship” guaranteed by article 1 of the law of 1905.
This possibility does not formally exist in private companies, even if some of them decide to allocate holidays to employees of other faiths or, at least, to allow them to take holidays on these days. All this helps to guarantee freedom of worship.
Some European countries have similar systems, notably Spain or Germany (where religious matters fall under the jurisdiction of the federated states). The city-state of Hamburg, for example, has signed an agreement with the Muslim community: the latter undertakes to respect fundamental rights (going quite far in recognizing gender equality, religious diversity ) and, in return, it benefits from a whole series of advantages on the model of other religions, including the recognition of Muslim holidays.
Even if they have not yet materialized, other German Länder are preparing similar conventions, the objective being essentially integration. In France, we haven’t gone that far and it may be one of the weaknesses of our system. In recent years, with this objective of integration, we have tended to ask a lot of religions, without offering them much in return.
Collected by Nicolas Seneze
(1) For pupils, leave of absence may be granted on major religious holidays; “systematic or prolonged” absences are however refused.
It is legitimate for all believers to have a space of freedom
Director of the National Service for Relations with Muslims at the Conference of Bishops of France
Like other religions, Muslims must be able to exist in French society and benefit from the freedom granted to religions. But this recognition goes far beyond the question of the establishment of a few days off. It already passes, in fact, by the construction of places of worship or the development of Muslim squares in cemeteries… all accompanied by the services of the State.
If the public holidays affixed to Catholic religious holidays were abolished during the French Revolution, it was by a principle of reality that they were restored throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, because the population was still very attached to certain holidays. . Today, it is true that this balance between religious practice and non-working days no longer works.
On the other hand, it must be recognized that these public holidays create an appreciable space of freedom. Christians do not have to justify an absence from work (or school) to be able to celebrate the Ascension and go to mass, for example. Other believers can sometimes have the feeling that they have to justify themselves and this can cause discomfort (the law provides that one is not obliged to make known the religious reason for the request)… place of our fellow citizens of the Muslim faith, who may be worried about the image they project by making known the religious reason for their request. I remember that after the attacks of September 11, some Muslims no longer dared to say that they were celebrating Ramadan: often, that changed their outlook on them. I also believe that it would be preferable not to unleash too many passions on these questions of identity at present. The idea of exchanging Christian holidays for those of other denominations may not serve them well. I would add that certain religious holidays, such as the end of Ramadan, which is based on the observation of the moon, are more difficult to fix a long time in advance because the astronomical calculation of the lunation does not yet achieve consensus.
Also, if we stay with the legislation in force – which is all in all well done –, the main issue remains the climate of trust in society. Secularism, which should not be used to ignore religions, should rather give confidence to believers to prepare their holidays without fear of stigma.
Collected by Alix Champlon