Living in Italy (and by extension, the European Union) puts a lot of perspective on things. For instance, we were told in our orientation for school that in Italy, if you are accused of a crime, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. To that particular law, I really have no comment. I have never been in a position even in the United States to be accused of anything and thus am unable to appreciate the importance of presumption of innocence, although it must be a great thing since we do it in America…
Another thing about Rome at least is the copious amount of churchage. In fact, wherever I go, I have ceased being surprised to see a baroque facade squeezed between two palazzi or apartment buildings. The Church is a huge deal here in Rome. (I mean, understatement).
Also, there are large piazze where walkers walk, drivers drive, and finally protesters protest. I don’t see too much of that in America. Maybe it’s because I live in the Midwest, but I don’t see a lot of city squares and definitely not a lot of protesters.
So when I read in the Daily Telegraph that Paris had just passed a law banning prayer in the streets, I thought “In Europe? Really?” Then on second thought “Oh, right. Europe.” The thing is, I both associate Europe with good urbanism, great food, and the roots of my faith but also bad politics, immorality, and secularism. There’s no Constitutional amendment granting freedom of religious expression. Europe is like a group of teenage rebels who are trying to distance themselves from their Mother, the Church. France has been referred to as the “eldest daughter of the Church” or something like that and it seems like she’s fulfilling that right here and now.
Yes, I know the law is specifically aimed at Muslim Friday worship (that of course has some Implications for Freedom of Religion) but according to the government, it is its duty to keep all public spaces secular. “Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism.” (Claude Guéant) Not dignified? Has this man ever seen traditional Catholic ritual? It was designed to be dignified. What’s not dignified is couples making out against a church wall (it happens, I’ve seen it). This is secularism in the public spaces and yes, in Italy it is not frowned upon, I guess. But if prayer doesn’t belong in the public spaces of our cities, then sexual intimacy certainly should be banned.
Apparently, it was already against the law to publicly worship, block streets etc., so why make it a new law to completely ban prayer? I mean, prayer can be almost anything and it is often pretty small, although it can be a big deal.
Now I have been known to make the sign of the cross in public. I have been in Eucharistic Processions in public. I have, in short, prayed in public. And if I lived in France, I would be pretty furious. In fact, I kind of am now. Living in America, you always hear doomsayers talking about things like this, but prayer still happens in public. In Italy, the Faith is a very public thing (although, to be honest, I haven’t seen anyone actually praying in public). In France, though, they seem to be a little messed up. Yes, the law is about huge gatherings of Muslims blocking the street every Friday, and maybe they have to do something about that. But to actually outlaw public prayer not because it is merely a nuisance to traffic, but because the streets must be secular??? It boggles my mind. What will the faithful do for Eucharistic Processions? Will the police crack down on people making the sign of the Cross? Will saying “God bless you” be a jailable offense? Il Mio Dio, non sia cosí!
I may have to go to Paris and pray the Angelus at the Arc de Triomphe. Let’s see what happens.