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Respect symbols

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Any attempt to erase the visible signs of one’s religious belief goes against the concept of freedom of religion, Pope John Paul II told French bishops.

“The participation of Christians in public life, the visible presence of the Catholic Church and of other religious confessions” does not violate the principles of separation of Church and state, the Pope told the bishops on February 27 at the end of their ad limina visits to the Vatican. Bishops make the visits every five years to report on the status of their dioceses.

The freedoms guaranteed in a democracy, the Pope said, must include the freedom to express one’s religious beliefs, even in public.

“To try to erase from the social field this important dimension of the life of individuals and peoples as well as any signs that manifest this (belief) would be contrary to a correct understanding of freedom,” said the Pope.

Last month, France’s National Assembly backed a controversial bill that bans students wearing an “ostentatious” sign of their religious affiliation inside a public school. The ban, expected to pass the Senate during March, is expected to include the Islamic head scarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban and large crucifixes.

Proponents of the ban said it would preserve the secular nature of the French state.

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