Pope Sends Message to NCM Tarlochan Singh on Proposed Religious Ban

On January 30, the Vatican issued a message from His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Tarlochan Singh, Chairman National Commission for Minorities in India in response to Tarlochan Singh's previous communication to the Vatican regarding the proposed ban on the turban for Sikhs in the schools of France.

Next week, France will be debating legislation that will make it illegal to wear obvious religious symbols in public schools. Germany and Belgium are currently investigating similar legislation in their countries.

Tarlochan Singh has been in correspondence with His Grace Mr. Monsignor Felix A. Machado who is secretary of Poncciatol Council of Inter-Religious Dialogue in the Vatican. Mr. Tarlochan Singh requested intervention by His Holiness the Pope in the matter of granting permission to the Sikh students to wear turbans in the schools in France.

This is the message given by the Pope to the Chairman National Commission for Minorities and the Sikh community.

"Communities of believers, an expression of the religious dimension of the human being, exist in all societies. Believers, therefore, legitimately expect to take part in the public dialogue.

Unfortunately, it must be noted that this is not always the case. In recent times, we have witnessed in some European countries an attitude that could endanger the effective respect for religious freedom. Everyone may agree to respect the religious sentiment of individuals but the same cannot be said of the "religious factor", that is, the social dimension of religions...People often invoke the principle of secularity, legitimate in itself if it is understood as the distinction between the political community and religions (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 76). But distinction does not mean ignorance! Secularity is not secularism!

It is nothing other than respect for all beliefs on the part of the State that assures the free excercise of ritual, spiritual and cultural and charitable activities by communities of believers. In a pluralistic society, secularity is a place for communication between the different spiritual traditions and the nation. Church and State relations can and must, on the contrary, lead to a respectful dialogue conveying fruitful experiences and values for the future of a nation. There is no doubt at all that a healthy dialogue between the State and the Churches - which are not rivals but partners - can encourage the integral development of the human person and harmony in society."