Sarkozy: Laicism Shouldn't Cut Christian Roots

French President Backs Viewing Religion as an Asset

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By Jesús Colina

ROME, DEC. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The president of France said laicism should not try to separate a nation from its Christian roots.

In a speech Thursday at St. John Lateran, Nicolas Sarkozy said, "No one denies that the French system of laicism is a guarantee of liberty: liberty to believe or not; liberty to practice a religion and to change it; liberty to refuse to betray one's conscience with public practices; the liberty of parents to educate their children according to their beliefs; liberty from discrimination from government due to beliefs."

Sarkozy, who was at St. John Lateran to take the title of "honorary canon," traditionally bestowed on heads of the French state, said his country has changed a lot. "The French have greater differences in convictions than before," he said. "Now laicism presents itself as a necessity and an opportunity."

However, he added, "Secularism should not be a denial of the past. It does not have the power to sever France from its Christian roots. This has been tried. It shouldn't have been done."

Sarkozy met with the Pope at the Vatican on Thursday morning.

"Like Benedict XVI," he said, "I think a nation that ignores the ethical, spiritual and religious heritage of its history commits a crime against its culture, against the whole of its history, patrimony, art and popular traditions, which permeate living and thinking in such a deep way."

The president added: "To uproot is to lose meaning; it is to weaken the foundation of national identity, and to drain even more the social relationships that have such a need of memorable symbols.

"For this reason, we have to join the two ends of the chain: to accept the Christian roots of France -- even better, to value them, to defend the laicism that finally reaches maturity. This is the step I want to take this afternoon in St. John Lateran."

"I am calling for a positive laicism," he said, "that is to say, a secularism that watches over freedom of thought, of belief and unbelief, does not consider religion as a danger, but as an asset."