French Minister: Life Is ‘More Important’ Than Religious Freedom

Women dressed in the traditional clothes of the Sorbs carry the statue of Virgin Mary during a procession in the church in Rosenthal, eastern Germany, Monday, June 5, 2017. Traditionally on Whit Monday catholic faithful Sorbs, a Slavic minority near the German-Polish border, celebrate an open air mass in the …
AP/Jens Meyer

France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin has threatened Catholic demonstrators with a police crackdown if they do not desist protesting a ban on Masses.

Catholics have taken to gathering in front of churches around France calling for the resumption of worship and insisting that their religious liberty is being violated by a suspension of public Masses during the country’s most recent lockdown.

“I do not want to have to send the police and gendarmes to issue citations to believers in front of a church, of course, but if it is a repeated act and clearly contrary to the laws of the Republic, I will do it this weekend,” warned Gerald Darmanin in a television interview Friday, adding that this weekend there would be “no more leniency.”

“Of course, freedom of worship is very important, and we have left churches open,” the minister said, “but life is more important than anything, and life means fighting against the coronavirus.”

This week, Mr. Darmanin directed law enforcement to strengthen controls and show “firmness” against violators of the lockdown.

During the first ten days of the most recent lockdown, French police handed out over 80,000 citations for non-compliance with the order, the Interior Ministry declared.

On his Twitter account, Darmanin announced Friday that on Monday morning he will bring together the representatives of the main faiths in order to discuss “the conditions under which ceremonies could be held again in places of worship depending on the evolution of the health situation.”

In his “message to believers,” Darmanin said that “everyone’s health must come first,” even ahead of freedom to worship.

“In this exceptional context, I call on everyone to respect the law of the Republic,” Darmanin wrote. “Whoever fails to do so will be subject to sanctions.”

The minister added that the length and harshness of the lockdown, especially as regards worship, “will depend on people’s respect for these rules.”

For their part, organizers of the “Pour la Messe” gatherings have insisted that “the right to demonstrate is a fundamental right of democratic countries, constitutionally guaranteed in France.”

“So please: leave us the Mass!” the group says in a petition on its website. “For many of us, it is an essential resource, a vital sap. For the most tried, the most fragile, it is an irreplaceable support. For all, it is a freedom. It must remain so.”

“Pro-Mass” demonstrations have taken place this weekend in Nantes, Bordeaux, Paris, Strasbourg, and other French cities.

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