Fraternity, a revived ideal
It is a reminder of universal human fraternity, which for Christians recalls the very core of Christ’s message
French 20 franc coin of 1851 (Photo by Numista/Wikipedia/PD)
Basing its decision on the “fraternity principle,” France’s supreme judicial body, the Constitutional Council, has ruled that a person may not be prosecuted for offering disinterested assistance to someone who is in the country “irregularly.” The judges gave the French Parliament until Dec. 1 to modify the law.
In a world where national egotism is growing stronger, fraternity still has something to offer.
The concept has formed part of the France's motto of “liberty, equality, fraternity” since 1848. It is also included in Article 2 of the country's 1958 Constitution.
Now, France’s Constitutional Council has ruled that fraternity “must be respected as a constitutional principle by the legislator and may be invoked in legal hearings.”
The ruling was welcomed with relief by associations working with migrants as its first concrete effect will be to protect “the freedom to assist others for a humanitarian purpose without regard to whether they are legally present on national territory.”
This puts an end to the prosecutions and convictions of those who have generously and disinterestedly assisted foreigners present illegally in France.
This emphasis on fraternity is certainly heart-warming. It is a reminder of universal human fraternity, which for Christians recalls the very core of Christ’s message that we are all children of the same God the Father.
Indeed, this is the very vision that Pope Francis himself has insisted on in his ceaseless appeals for solidarity with migrants.
Other religions share a similar outlook and the philosophers of the Enlightenment have also promoted fraternity as a secular belief. In France, innumerable civil society initiatives bear witness to this.
While solidarity is already recognized as a duty of the state towards its citizen and a social asset to be preserved, the concept of fraternity translates this into a personal commitment.
It adds a quality and a vigorous intensity in attention to the other, which contributes to developing relationships within as well as beyond the confines of the nation-state.
Ultimately, the state cannot – and cannot claim – to either sum up or limit the generosity of citizens.