Fransız laikliği [fr]
1) What does French laïcité [secularism] mean ?
The principle of laïcité [secularism] is the result of a long historical process that began with the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Indeed, Enlightenment develops the concept of tolerance and freedom of conscience by criticizing the concept of monarchy by divine right. Laïcité [secularism] was gradually formalized by the Third Republic at the end of the 1870s. Compulsory and secular public education was introduced by the Ferry laws in 1881.
The law of 1905 on the separation of church and state marks the culmination of the process : it establishes neutrality in the public sector and prohibits the financing of religions by the state, which does not recognize any religion but does guarantee the freedom of worship for all. Today, the principleoflaïcité [secularism] is enshrined in our Constitution. It is based on 3 pillars : respect for the freedom of conscience and worship ; the fight against any domination of religion over the state and civil society ; the equality of religions and beliefs, including the right not to believe.
As Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, reaffirmed on July 31, 2012 : “Franceis asecularRepublic, butlaïcité[secularism] is in no way hostile to religions. On the contrary, it provides a shared framework for the coexistence of the different religious expressions—or their absence—and for freedom of worship. Indeed, thesecularstate supports no religion and disadvantages none. It respects beliefs and it knows that freedom of religion and belief is atthe heart of public freedoms.Let me add that secularismis a principle for the future in a world where the diversity of beliefs and of spiritual references is going to increase. Admittedly, I’m not unaware that secularism is sometimes distorted and turned into a principle for exclusion.But that’s a misinterpretation.”
2) How is the principle of laïcité [secularism] implemented today ?
Laïcité [secularism] doesn’t ignore religion which plays a key role in our societies.
Indeed, the French religious landscape has become more diversified over the last few decades and religious practices – while now less concerned with ritual - have become more secular.
No official statistics on religious affiliation in France have been available since 1872 when collecting data on people’s religious affiliation and ethnic origin was banned. Estimates are based on surveys. The 2006 Machelon Report provides the following overview of the religious landscape : Catholicism is still the majority religion (approximately 65% of French people) ; Islam is the second most important religion in France and encompasses many different denominations. The number of people from countries with Islam as their religion is estimated to be approximately 5 million ; Protestantism accounts for 2 per cent of the population and Judaism is practiced by some 600,000 people.
Laïcité [secularism] therefore goes hand in hand with ongoing dialogue with the religious leaders. Accordingly, the President receives the representatives of religious communities once a year.
The minister of the interior, responsible for relations with religious communities, maintains regular contact with the representatives of the different faiths in order to facilitate worship and the organization of religious communities. The public sector therefore allows its employees to take leave for major religious holidays.
The minister of foreign affairs also has an advisor for religious affairs and the Center for Analysis, Forecasting and Strategy (CAPS) devotes part of its efforts to examining the role of religion in international life.
In the multilateral forums, France is mobilized together with its European partners to promote the freedom of religion or belief around the world. (The first “EU guidelines on the freedom of religion or belief” were adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council on June 24, 2013.) As such, every year, the EU presents a resolution entitled “Freedom of religion or belief” to the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
Laws have been introduced to clarify how laïcité [secularism] should be implemented. Thus, the law of March 15, 2004, authorizes the wearing of religious symbols in public elementary, middle and high schools, provided that they are not ostentatious. Similarly, the law of October 11, 2010, imposes a general ban on the concealment of the face for whatever reason in public spaces.
In 2005, the centenary of the law on the separation of church and state prompted numerous discussions on this principle which remains as relevant as ever.
In this context, the National Secularism Watchdog, established in 2007 and relaunched in 2013, supports the public authorities’ efforts to ensure respect for the principle of laïcité [secularism] in France. It gathers data, and provides analyses in order to keep the public authorities informed about secularism. It can refer any requests to undertake studies or research on secularism to the prime minister. It can propose to the prime minister any measure that it believes would improve the implementation of this principle, notably in order to ensure that information is provided to public and private officials, public service users, and elected officials and representatives of religious communities. Lastly, the prime minister and ministers consult with this body on draft laws and regulations."