Monday, December 12, 2005

Laïcité 1905-2005: Centenary of the Separation of Church and State in France

Last Friday, December 9, marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the French law creating an active separation of Church and state, a concept known as "laïcité" and that is often translated as secularism.

Under that law:
  • The French Republic would no longer fund or lend political support to religious organisations
  • Religious symbols would not be allowed in public buildings
  • Religion was not to be taught in schools
  • People were allowed to follow a religion but no-one should be forced to

Some resources on the issue in France, plus some others offering an international comparison of the laws on Church-State relations:

  • 100th Anniversary of Secularism in France (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life): offers "a variety of resources capturing the significance of the original law and the current debate concerning its implementation. The resources include links to Pew Forum transcripts and related resource pages, as well as links to official statements on secularism and accredited news and commentary". The Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research institute that provides information on attitudes and trends in the United States
  • The Separation of Church and State in France (BBC): an in-depth report on the history of French secularism and recent tensions involving religious minorities, most specifically certain members of the Moslem population (the "hijab question")
  • The deep roots of French secularism (BBC): "Secularism is the closest thing the French have to a state religion. It underpinned the French Revolution and has been a basic tenet of the country's progressive thought since the 18th Century... To this day, anything that smacks of official recognition of a religion - such as allowing Islamic headscarves in schools - is anathema to many French people. Even those who oppose a headscarf ban do so in the name of a more modern, flexible form of secularism. This tradition can be seen as a by-product of French Catholicism, as progressives have always seen the pulpit as an enemy, rather than a platform, unlike in some Protestant countries."
  • International Religious Freedom Report 2005 (U.S. State Department): every year since 1998, the State Department submits a report to Congress on the situation in the various countries of the world. The country descriptions provide data on the religious makeup of national populations, social attitudes toward religion, government policy as well as the constitutional/legislative framework that deals with the rights of religious organizations and individuals. Note how Americans describe the issue in terms of "freedom" (see next item also) as opposed to the way the debate is handled in France
  • Nation Profiles (Center on Religion and Democracy, University of Virginia): each country profile tries to provide information on the distribution of religious groups, a summary of legislation on the topic of "religious freedom" and a bibliography of additional sources
  • 1905-2005 - Cent ans de laïcité en France: official State website of the commemoration of the 1905 law - N.B. site is very Flash-heavy. There are links to colloquia, historical debates and legal texts, etc. The government asked the prestigious Académie des sciences morales et politiques to organize a series of seminars throughout the year to mark the anniversary. Summaries of the contents of those seminars are available. Some of the seminars were broadcast on the Canal Académie
  • La laïcité, une loi d'actualité (Libération): the Dec. 9 article in the Parisian daily draws a sharp contrast between the silence at the summit of the French state on the day of the anniversary and the proliferation of conferences, exhibitions, banquets, and publications at the local level across France
  • La laïcité : débats 100 ans après la loi de 1905 (La Documentation française): a very complete site from the official government publisher attached to the office of the French Prime Minister
  • La laïcité dans la République (French National Assembly): educational website created in the wake of the 2004 law banning the wearing of religious symbols in French schools. The site provides detailed information on the history of French secularism, and how it applies in French daily life (school, workplace, healthcare). There are examples based on real life situations, summaries of case law, quizzes.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:29 pm


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