French officials announced a new surveillance policy earlier this week to monitor and disband radical religious groups, according to a Reuters report. This is the latest in an effort to emphasize France’s adherence to secularism and prevent violent outbursts of extremist religion.
"The aim is not to combat opinions by force, but to detect and understand when an opinion turns into a potentially violent and criminal excess," said Interior Minister Manuel Valls during a conference on the country’s official position of secularism.
As examples of heightened religious violence, Valls pointed to a French Islamist who went on a shooting spree last spring, killing three soldiers and four Jews.
"The objective is to identify when it's suitable to intervene to treat what has become a religious pathology," said Valls. He stressed that the focus would be not only on radical Salafi Muslims, but also on groups such as Civitas, a far-right lay Catholic movement that protests aggressively against what it calls insults to Christianity.
In addition to Civitas, Valls listed Christian and Muslim creationists in America, radical Islamists, ultra-traditionalist Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews as examples of religious extremists.
The policy will allow authorities to monitor certain groups and label some as sectarian. Members of groups labeled as extremist and sectarian could face prosecution and deportation.
The move to entrench secularism in French culture also will reach into the schools. Education Minister Vincent Peillon told the conference the classes would stress the French values of equality and fraternity.
France’s official position of secularism has sought to keep faith out of the public sphere, causing tension between religious groups who want to maintain a more visible religious identity and left-wing secularists who posit that religion should be a private matter.
Valls urged the more militant secularists at the conference not to view all religions as sects, but as possible assets in fighting extremists: "We have to say that religions are not sects, otherwise sects are religions."