**Le Pen slams rival Fillon over use of religion in French politics
PARIS, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen attacked her main rival Francois Fillon on Tuesday over the link he has made between his political stance and his Christian beliefs, exposing a thorny issue facing their campaigns. In an interview with France 2 Television ahead of the presidential election in April, the National Front (FN) leader evoked the French principle of secularism in public life…
Many of Fillon’s core supporters are committed Catholics. He knows some of them are drawn to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Le Pen, and his victory in the conservative primaries last month owed much to the backing of voters who, like him, have misgivings about gay marriage and state-funded abortion.
Last weekend, he declared: “I am a Gaullist, and what’s more, I am a Christian,” affirming his allegiance to his faith and to the legacy of the former President Charles de Gaulle…
By joining the attack on Fillon, Le Pen risks the wrath of some of her own supporters and further exposes a faultline within her own party. Opinion polls have shown support for her dipping since Fillon won the conservative ticket in November - a development attributed by some to his appeal to the Catholic right.
Le Pen has sought to play down the FN’s connection with such traditionalism in a bid to throw off a reputation for racism and bigotry - emphasising instead a pro-worker agenda. But her need to go on the offensive against Fillon has re-opened Le Pen’s feud with her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who represents that traditionalist FN group and evokes a Catholic heritage as the bedrock of her politics…In December, Marion attacked the official FN line and modernising party deputy Florian Philippot, reaffirming her anti-abortion credentials and criticising Philippot’s support for a state-sponsored anti-AIDS advertising campaign that depicted gay couples.
Fillon is tipped to win by a comfortable margin, but the Socialists have yet to chose their candidate and third-placed independent centrist Emmanuel Macron has been climbing in opinion polls. **