Measure would put France in the “global vanguard of religious discrimination” – An “outright attack on freedom of speech”

Press Release by FOREF Europe

French version / German version (PDF)

Paris/Vienna, 20.12.2016 (FOREF – Europe) – A bill adopted by the French Senate to criminalize the publication of anti-abortion information judged as “moral and psychological pressure” would egregiously violate the freedom of religion and the freedom of expression protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, and France’s basic international legal human rights obligations under United Nations treaties, according to the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF).

“France would be acting like a totalitarian secular theocracy if this measure became law, and in the global vanguard of religious discrimination,” according to Dr. Aaron Rhodes, the president of FOREF.

“The issue here is not whether abortion is good or bad, but whether the state has the right to restrict the dissemination of teachings about the question, and thus to police the moral outlook of citizens,” he added. “From a human rights perspective, it does not.”

The bill modifies the already existing article L2223-2 of the French Health Code which represses the act of impeding or trying to impede people from offering or obtaining information on abortion by exerting “moral and psychological pressure”, i. e. through demonstrations in front of hospitals.

The new law would extend this regulation to the expression of anti-abortion views “by any means”, including websites that are deemed to dissuade women from aborting. The new legislation could make the online publication of “misinformation” about abortion by anti-abortion groups and religious denominations, including the Catholic Church, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of almost EUR 30,000. This represents an inadmissible infringement of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.

Indeed, the mere communication of anti-abortion beliefs and information is protected speech under the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. French citizens have an internationally guaranteed right to express their opinions, especially dissenting ones, and a protected right to express their religious beliefs, even when they do not match the beliefs of the government in place. Characterizing the expression of beliefs as “moral pressure” is thus not only an outright denial of the right to religious freedom, but also represents an inadmissible infringement of the right to freedom of expression.

France has deep Catholic roots. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception”. The traditional Catholic point of view thus maintains that an embryo “must be defended in its integrity” as it is understood to already have the full dignity of a human being (articles 2270-74).

Other confessions embraced in France are also opposed to abortion on theological grounds. Mr. Camel Bechikh, the president of Fils de France, said that “the bill will likely increase the estrangement of religious communities from the public discourse if they are not allowed to voice their moral objections to controversial issues.” Fils de France is an association that promotes French patriotism among Muslims.

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The draft law, which has been championed by outgoing French President François Hollande, was adopted by the Senate on December 7 and will now be voted upon by a Joint Committee, consisting of seven members of the Senate, and seven from the National Assembly.

The proposed law not only constitutes a severe violation of religious freedom, it is an outright attack on the freedom of expression by state actors against the French citizens. FOREF is appealing to the international human rights community to help prevent French politicians from committing a serious violation of basic rights and freedoms, human rights that France itself has historically championed at home and at the international level.

For more information:

Peter Zoehrer (Executive Director) +43 664-523-8794
Aaron Rhodes (President) +49-170-323-8314


View Comments (2)
  • Peter, I wouldn’t frame this as an issue of religious discrimination. After all, many Catholic countries have laws restricting abortion and women’s right to choose, laws promoted by the Catholic Church. The Church has long been promoting religious discrimination against free-thinking women who want to have freedom with what to do with their own bodies. I don’t condone what these French legislators are doing either, but turnabout is fair game. In my opinion, the whole issue of abortion needs to be taken out of the realm of laws and legal coercion either pro or anti, in favor of compassionate counseling to support women and families in their choices.

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