Freedom of assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses
I do not want to argue about the way the Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Bollaert stadium. I give credit to the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their spirit of organization and the extreme care with which they make use of our facilities. They return it in better condition than when they take it. Everything is clean, everything is tidy, everything in good condition, and back in its place. In addition, they make a rental donation that increases every year. Compare that with problems we have with some of the other people.
I also observe that the inhabitants of Lens who fight against the Jehovah’s Witnesses represent fewer than a dozen people, and one of them was a candidate of the Front National political party. The others in my opinion have an outlook which ought to lead them to vote for the Front National. It is their right to oppose the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is their right to demonstrate at the gates of the stadium when the Jehovah’s Witnesses are there. I have just asked the Jehovah’s Witnesses to respect the demonstrators and not to mock those on the other side of the fence, to simply turn their backs and to avoid provocation. I do not want this event to become a battleground between both parties.
The right of assembly exists in our country; the right to demonstrate also exists. I must say that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have always followed my recommendations.
What is a sect? A question but no satisfactory answer
Some people say to me, « But the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a sect! » and I always challenge them to tell me what is a sect, because I don’t know what is a sect. No one has ever managed to tell me what a sect is.
I have read the parliamentary report on sects. I have listened to my assistant, and he was like me. He said, « I have not learned anything from the parliamentary report. They have not succeeded in defining what a sect is. »
Opponents never succeeded in bringing convincing testimonies against the Jehovah’s Witnesses to cause them to be banned, although they have parliamentarians on their side, including the communist deputy-mayor of the Paris region Mr. Brard, who have the power to make laws.
Mr. Brard was a member of the commission. He seemed to me extremely objective. He wrote to me: “You give your stadium to Jehovah’s Witnesses. What considerations bring you to take that decision? I am worried about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I have not managed yet to make my own opinion.” I answered, and it seems he was satisfied with the arguments that I have developed before because he never came back to me. I suppose that he continues to think about this question.
People often compare the Jehovah’s Witnesses with other sects that I call the “blood-stained sects,” the ones that are blamed for crimes. I have never found any similarity, or any points of comparison between them.
France honors itself in respecting any and all religions, when they have done no wrong. The people of the OTS (Order of the Solar Temple) were criminals, and that’s not to be tolerated.
About the Catholics and the Muslims
Now, there are here in Lens organisations linked to the Catholic Church. There is a handful of fundamentalists. We have the congregation la Source [The Well]. We have people that take some distance from the Church while still believing in its dogmas. I have studied their cases. I have seen them. I have questioned them. They have invited me. They have received me kindly. They have explained me their positions. I have nothing to say except that if the Catholic Church cannot manage to keep its members, it is up to the Church to conquer them back, because these people have left the Church in order to practice their religion.
I had the same problem with the Muslims. In gratitude for our having provided them with a place of worship, they invited me to the mosque. When the leaders of the city met with the Imam, it became evident that in the community there was a fundamentalist minority that required us to take off our shoes and that did not want the delegation to include the elected women.
I told them “You can take it or leave it. If you want us to visit you, then we are not going to take off our shoes and we will come with all the elected officials. If not, we won’t go. We are not going to visit you to adopt your religion, your dogma and your practice. You need to receive us as elected officials. We will make a friendly visit because we want to promote good relations between you and those who do not believe as you do.”
We have been elected as members of a left-wing party, as socialists, as secularists, as republicans whatever our personal beliefs. Our role is to bring citizens together and to avoid antagonisms, and we work with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and all the others.
Relations between the municipality and Jehovah’s Witnesses
What bothers some is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses pay us large amounts to rent the Bollaert stadium. One day they published the amount that they paid, and we immediately received letters from citizens of Lens saying that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were giving money to the Racing Club of Lens. How could a club that has a lot of money accept money from the Jehovah’s Witnesses? I replied that it was reimbursement for service. What is disturbing is that the amount comes to about thirty thousand euros. Some said that it was laundered money, money that had been wrongfully acquired by people who owed millions in taxes to the French revenue service.
Several other towns have contacted us because they also let Jehovah’s Witnesses use their stadiums. With the exception of Strasbourg, we worked out a common policy. As to Strasbourg, it’s up to them. If a city council experiences pressure from intolerant people, that’s the business of the town council concerned. We continue our policy calmly and peacefully, and we explain it to whoever asks.
The citizens of Lens share our point of view, and with the exception of fewer than a dozen individuals, they have never made any reproaches. If it were the case, we would not change our position. We are elected for a six-year term, and if people do not approve what we do, they can have their say at the ballot box.
I am proud of what I have done. I say to my assistant who is the principal of a school, that he is not showing a good example. “I am a secularist. It is your duty to teach your students tolerance and secularism.”
There is no betrayal of values for a city to allow churches to use public facilities. I do not see how that we would thereby be failing to fulfill our mission. These facilities were paid for by the taxes of all the taxpayers. Even if the Jehovah’s Witnesses choose not to vote, they are still taxpayers like everyone else and they have the right to use community facilities.
Any prohibition would be some form of exclusion, and our mission is to fight against all exclusions, whatever their nature. The ADFI has tried to influence our policy but that’s the way we think.
Exhibition on the deportation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Nazis
I have always fought against any form of totalitarianism. No one contested that exhibition. I saw it and I saluted the resistance of Jehovah’ Witnesses with respect because I have read their history. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted by the Nazis in the same way as the Jews, the Gypsies, the Free Masons, the Communists, and many other people. Personally, I respect their sacrifices.
(*) The interview taken by Regis Dericquebourg was recorded and faithfully transcribed. Mr. Delelis authorised us to share it.
(1) Guy Mollet was an active member of the French Socialist Party between WW I and WW II. He joined the French Army in 1939 and was taken prisoner by the Germans. Released after seven months, he joined the resistance and was three times arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. He was minister and Vice Prime Minister in several governments after WW II.
(2) After 1998 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been allowed to follow their own conscience as far as participating in elections. Mr. Delelis was not yet aware of that.