Monday, February 25, 2008


PARIS -- More than a century after France officially separated religion and state, President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to close the gap, talking about faith as the missing compass in private and public life.

By North American standards, or even those of other European countries, Mr. Sarkozy's remarks over the past two months, and the resulting French disapproval, may seem overwrought. He doesn't claim a personal relationship with God and is not a regular churchgoer.

But he has called religious faith a defining element of identity. And even more shocking in anticlerical France, he has invited the Roman Catholic Church and other organized religions to provide moral instruction to "enlighten our choices and build our future."

Mr. Sarkozy's repeated references to God in speeches over the past two months have been denounced as attacks on the citadel of French secularism. Some critics accused him of political pandering, particularly to conservative Catholics dismayed by the attention paid to the twice-divorced President's social life.

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