Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Front (FN) party president, member of European Parliament and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, speaks during a New Year wishes ceremony to the media in Paris, France, January 4, 2017. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Le Pen slams rival Fillon over use of religion in politics

PARIS (Reuters) Far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen attacked her main rival Francois Fillon over the link he has made between his political stance and his Christian beliefs, exposing a thorny issue facing their campaigns.

In an interview Tuesday (Jan. 10) with France 2 Television ahead of the presidential election in April, the National Front leader evoked the French principle of secularism in public life.

Known as 'laïcité', the principle aims to separate religion from state affairs and has spawned a culture where civil servants cannot wear headscarves at work and children at state schools do not learn about religion.

Modern references to it are made in the context of tensions with the country's Muslim community, but a mistrust of religion in government dates from the 18th century when revolutionaries identified Catholic Church leaders with the royalty they overthrew. A law that enshrines it goes back to 1905, long before large-scale immigration by people of other religions.

"The French are of course very attached to their religious beliefs ... but the opportunistic use of that faith, to defend a certain political line, I find is contrary to the principle of laïcité and contrary to our (French) values," Le Pen said.

"How can we fight against ghettoisation if we send that signal?," said Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant position has included criticising Muslims for praying in the street.

"How will we oblige those who want to pursue their politics in the name of some other religion, for example Islam?"

The principle of laicité has broad political support in France even though many French people are Catholics and many more say they embrace Christian values.


Many of Fillon's core supporters are committed Catholics.

Last weekend, he declared: "I am a Gaullist, and what's more, I am a Christian," affirming his allegiance to his faith and to the legacy of the former President Charles de Gaulle.

Some of his supporters saw the statement as radical and it was condemned by rivals including Manuel Valls, a main contender for the Socialist presidential ticket.

Fillon's spokesman defended the statement. "It was intentional," he said, aimed at responding to attacks on his austere social policies, which opponents have called uncaring. "It's about solidarity and the defence of the poorest people. It's in his DNA."

By joining the attack on Fillon, Le Pen risks the wrath of some of her own supporters and further exposes a faultline within her own party.

Opinion polls have shown support for her dipping since Fillon won the conservative ticket in November - a development attributed by some to his appeal to the Catholic right.

Le Pen has sought to play down the FN's connection with such traditionalism in a bid to throw off a reputation for racism and bigotry - emphasising instead a pro-worker agenda.

But her need to go on the offensive against Fillon has re-opened Le Pen's feud with her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who represents that traditionalist FN group and evokes a Catholic heritage as the bedrock of her politics.

Marechal-Le Pen, 27, one of the FN's only two members of parliament, is closer in ideology to her grandfather and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen than to her aunt.

In December, she attacked the official FN line and modernising party deputy Florian Philippot, reaffirming her anti-abortion credentials and criticising Philippot's support for a state-sponsored anti-AIDS advertising campaign that depicted gay couples.

Most opinion polls show Fillon and Le Pen meeting in a decisive second-round vote on May 7 after the April 23 first round.

Fillon is tipped to win by a comfortable margin, but the Socialists have yet to chose their candidate and third-placed independent centrist Emmanuel Macron has been climbing in opinion polls.

(Additional reporting by Sophie Louet and Ingrid Melander)


  1. You know what, that whole left-right dichotomy is like saying a map is better than a picture. This article made my respect for Le Pen go up about a million percent. Yes, I know she’s a racist, but, remember, I was one of those who always said Trump was eminently preferable to Cruz, Jindahl, Santorum, Huckabee, and the rest of the christofascists including Jeb Bush (especially because of Jeb’s willingness to intervene in the Teri Schiavo imbroglio to gain political points with the Religious Reich). Trump’s foul language, sexual proclivities, and chutzpah indicates he is not about to let the Wowsers get a foothold. Yes, he has DeVos and Carson in his cabinet, but as minor figureheads who are seldom heard from after confirmation. He won’t let either of them do any more damage than usual.

    That French race is like a contest here between Trump, Santorum, Clinton, Sanders, and Biden all in one race – like ours would be like if we had a universal primary and a myriad of parties like they do.

  2. “use of religion in politics”

    Sure, maybe, but in France “use of religion in politics” could be a phrase used to refer to “he wears a crucifix in public”.

  3. “children at state schools do not learn about religion.”

    Oh France, how do you even function??

    “And then, uhh, a bunch of European nations decided for NO REASON that they were going to conquer the hol-uh, I mean, the area consisting of modern Israel.”

    “The Nahuatl then took some of the Spanish prisoners up to a stone pyramid and then cut their hearts out for some bizarre reason.”

    “Jarl Haakon then broke his allegiance to Harald Bluetooth after Harald… uh… poured some water over Haakon’s head?? Yeah… let’s go with that.”

    “Some ETHNICALLY Jewish people then decided to settle in British Palestine, and encouraged other people of their ethnicity to do so. They chose that particular area for no reason of consequence…”

    “Then Japan closed off ties with the Portuguese because… uhm, the Shogun disagreed with some Portuguese people??”

    “The Egyptians built the pyramids and many other monuments, for no particular or symbolic reasons.”

    How do you even ~discuss~ history without teaching some aspect of religion??

  4. “How do you even ~discuss~ history without teaching some aspect of religion??”

    Obviously. Most Americans are ignorant of history, geography (equally important) as well as religion. Plus if your only exposure to history was in high school then you got a sanitized version that’s nearly worthless. I am a strong advocate of teaching religion (neutrally) in schools.

  5. “sanitized version”

    Not sure what you mean by “sanitized”. I’d say “propagandized”, maybe. I still remember my High School textbook with it’s entire chapter on Nazi war crimes… and it’s half-a-paragraph on Stalin’s war crimes. Because they were our allies at the time.

    Or leaving out the fact that FDR was pretty much trying to provoke the Japanese to attack so he could join in on an unpopular war Americans didn’t want to go into.

    Or countless other historical details ignored for the sake of building a narrative of America being the good guys eternally. But really only the questionable things America’s side did was the only thing I remember being “sanitized”. Any atrocity the /other/ side committed was discussed in great length.

  6. Just as you have described. Our misdeeds as a nation were hidden or at best minimized. That is common practice for governments to build a proud and patriotic populace.

  7. The woman who demonizes muslims. The movement who had a conservative catholic commit suicide inside of Notre dame. The movement fueled in part by Manif pour Tous, which believes only heterosexual catholics are worthwhile.

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