In statements on radio station France Inter, the cardinal commented on the current debate in the country on legislation to prohibit the exhibition of any religious signs in public places. President Jacques Chirac requested the legislation, in particular, to bar the use of the Muslim veil by women in France.
"The freedom of Islam is as precious as the freedom of Catholicism, or Protestantism or Judaism," Cardinal Lustiger said Thursday.
"The fact of knowing when religion is being abused for political reasons or when an attack is being made on the rights of men, is a question of public order," the archbishop of Paris said.
"But the statute of religions must not be confused with the maintenance of public order," the cardinal said. "If the veil is a political sign of a Muslim organization, which according to the government has threatened the security of the republic, let it assume its responsibilities, but not meddle in religious questions."
The archbishop acknowledged that the debate on the legislation has awakened "an anti-religious aggressiveness that has totally surprised Catholic circles."
The proposed law, he warned, could be taken advantage of by "involuntary incendiaries" to spark a religious war. And he mentioned that there have been cases lately of Catholics who suffered verbal attacks for wearing a cross on their chest.
"I hope the politicians are aware of what they are doing," the cardinal said. "The French position is unintelligible abroad."