FRANCE:Interview of an atheist socialist mayor open to religious tolerance (part 1)

FRANCE – Interview of an atheist socialist mayor open to religious tolerance

Interview with Mr. André Delelis concerning the use of Bollaert Stadium in Lens for conferences of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Conducted and recorded by Régis Dericquebourg (University Charles De Gaulle-Lille 3, Sociology of Religion and Laïcité, CNRS)
(Centre National de Recherche Scientifique)
for Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l.

HRWF Int’l (12.02.2006) – Website: http://www.hrwf.org – Email: info@hrwf.net – On the 26th of August 1998 Mr. André Delelis agreed to be interviewed about the use of the football stadium in the City of Lens, a place well known as the home field for the famous football club called the Racing Club de Lens.

Shortly after this interview Mr. Delelis ceded his position as mayor of the City of Lens to Mr. Guy Delcourt. Mr. André Delelis had been re-elected repeatedly as mayor of Lens, deputy in the National Assembly, as minister, and as senator. He is friendly, out-going, and a true humanist. He had a remarkable political career. He held numerous posts during his long political life and remained loyal to the socialist party.

He granted us this interview without hesitation at a time when minority religious groups were opposed by the socialists and we thank him for that. (*)

Secularist, atheist and tolerant

From the laïcité [secularism], I retain that which was taught to me by its founding fathers as well as that which I learned from democratic socialism and humanism. I have always been tolerant toward everyone.

I am an atheist. My parents brought me up that way and I have never joined a religion. I have been, however, a mayor open to all religions. I had a mosque made available for the Muslims. I had church buildings renovated. They are municipal churches as the city bears the full cost of maintaining these buildings. I had Catholic churches renovated that had been built long ago by the local mining companies. To this end, I asked for subsidies meant to be used to keep the region alive after the mines closed.

I have always allowed use of the city’s meeting rooms with the approval of the town council. My assistants and I meet every week and we allow use, without discrimination, by every organisation including those of a religious nature. There is no charge for whatever facilities they desire. We do this because we always considered it our duty as elected officials to serve everyone without regard to origin or opinion, whether political, unionist, or religious. Having been elected by all, it is our duty to protect all those who want to worship however they please.

Guy Mollet used to say, “I am an agnostic, but I will fight for the right of catholics, of protestants, and of all others to be able to enter into places of worship.”

‘Anti-sect’ movement ADFI

We have always believed that the associations to which we lent our community meeting rooms should be associations that had not been legally banned.

I have always responded to the association of Mrs. Charline Delporte, the Association for the Defense of Families and Individuals of Lille: « Madam, when you have managed to have the Jehovah’s Witnesses legally banned by French law, they will no longer be allowed to use the Bollaert stadium. So long as this association is not banned, it will be allowed to use it as they want and in accord with the stipulations we will determine. There is no doubt about it. Have them banned, and after that we will implement the laws of the French Republic. ».

I have heard the arguments from all sides. I have listened to them in my office. I have read the book by Charline Delporte and her followers. Her books only repeat old arguments: complaints by adult children against their parents after leaving the movement.

The ADFI once held a demonstration in front of the town hall. The one that yelled the loudest was the Front National party candidate for the office of mayor. I don’t have to obey Madam Deporte.

Freedom of conscience and of thought in the limits of the law

Once children of legal age freely choose on their own what they want to do with their future life, it is not my business. Nor is it my business if some parent cannot accept after a divorce that his child joins the Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor that the Jehovah’s Witnesses abstain from voting in the elections (2).

“You must admit, Madam, that you cannot accuse me of electioneering, I told Mrs. Delporte. If they ban the giving or transfusion of blood, it is their problem, not mine. In my role as mayor, I have no right to challenge the choices of the citizens under my authority. They can do what they want, and so long as what they do is not banned by the laws of the Republic, I have no right whatever to oppose whatever they do. ».

I gave the same answer to those who asked me to ban posters promoting the use of condoms for the sake of the children, or to ban the showing of pornographic films in the theatres of Lens, etc. I have always replied: «It is not my duty to be the watchdog of the city—or to check the billboards and the cinemas. Anything that is not banned by the law is not my responsibility; personally it is none of my business. That is the business of each person’s conscience.

In the city council I have only one assistant that disagrees with what we have been doing, even though he himself is a secular socialist. He may think as he wants. I respect his opinions, but he did not present enough strong arguments to convince me that I should renounce my ideas of tolerance.

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