Most people who pray do so privately or in ‘houses of worship’. This is just fine. (I may consider ‘prayer’ to be immoral, but I would never condone a government legislating morality.)
For many years, Muslims have blocked the streets of Paris by praying in the streets during Friday prayers. It has been widely reported that people drive from far and wide to intentionally choke up Paris as a form of bullying: we can stop your city whenever we want to – so we will. Muslim leaders simply assert that there are insufficient houses of worship for them, so they are forced to pray in the streets…
Today, there just may be a solution.
The French authorities have offered the Muslim community a large place to pray – and followed up this ‘carrot’ with a stout ‘stick: they have passed a new law which forbids Muslims from blocking the streets by praying. This is being done in the name of protecting the principle of secularism.
Of course, it raises a lot of questions – most of them very uncomfortable.
While I understand the peoblem of aggressive, in-you-face-praying (and, let’s face it: all the ‘faiths’, religious and secular, are guilty of this in different circumstances), I am not certain if the French solutuion is the correct way to go.
Certainly, France is not the only place where Muslim communities are using ‘in-your-face praying’ to intimidate non-Muslim citizens and bully political authorities by closing streets during Friday prayers.
Certainly, this practice must not be tolerated.
But solving it by providing government buildings to be used as houses of prayer seems to me to be a cure which does more harm than good!
Sure, the ‘problem’ is ‘out of sight’. Commerce can go on and the populace is not directly intimidated.
But at what cost?
Neatly and quickly, the burden of providing a ‘house of prayer’ for Muslims has been shifted from Muslims to The State!
What happened to that principle of secularism?
With the French State buildings becoming Mosques, where is the secular principle of separation of State and Mosque?
Perhaps I am simply unaware of the details of the deal – there might be some provisions for temporary use, like the types of permits for Santa Claus parades. If so, I am happy to be wrong.
However, I do think that accepting – even on a temporary basis – the responsibility for housing praying members of any religion in order to get them to obey the laws of the land is an unreasonable accommodation and a serious error of principles.
The law states that blocking streets is illegal. It is the government’s obligation to apply the laws equally and consistently – without regard to the lawbreakers’ religion, ethnicity or ‘culture’. The laws must be blind to these particulars: that is what equality before the law means!
Therefore, the laws should have been applied, fully and equally, from the beginning.
Instead, local streets had been permitted to be closed, often using private security guards from the Mosques to intimidate non-Muslims out of the area occupied by the in-your-face worshippers. That should never have been permitted.
[If I were the ruler of the universe, I’d start by fining the lawbreakrs, then, if necessary, escalate to other measures:
- playing loud music in the streets to encourage people who wish to pray to raise the money to build themselves their own house of worship (to pray on their own dime and not the public one)
- deploying canine units to patrol the streets and ensuring that the sidewalks adjacent to the Mosque and all other buildings in the area are clear for obvious safety reasons (the presence of the dogs would invalidate the prayers of those outside, so they would truly have no reason to clog the streets)
- and if that failed, the rules that apply to any other unruly and illegal public gathering would be put into action.]
(Aside – I have definite ideas about how much governments should be permitted to regulate public gatherings and I am not changing thses views. All I am asserting is that whatever the rules are, they must be applied equally to all. If the rules are bad, we should change them. Until then…)
Of course, France is not the only country with this particular method of in-your-face prayer is disrupting public peace and order. However flawed their approach and however bad its longterm results may be, at least in France, they have the guts to name the problem and are trying to do something to solve it.