Laïcité | Governmental secularism

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:12 (NIV)

Laïcité, or secularism, has its roots in the 18th century enlightenment. It was originally signed into law in 1905 by France's Third Republic in Article 1 of the French Constitution which guarantees freedom of conscience. This idea was further defined by the Fifth (the current) Republic which states that this "assures the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction to their origin, race or religion. It respects all religious beliefs." However, in Article 2 it states that "the Republic does not recognize, compensate or subsidize any religion." This second article often overshadows Article 1, which states that there is State neutrality with regard to religion.

On a personal level, faith is seen as a private matter. The State is a "no God" zone, and State employees are expected to remain neutral, with no religious symbolism displayed while on the job. For many people, faith is seen as something that needs to be kept to yourself. Blatant outreaches and proselytizing are seen in a negative light, and can even be against the law in many cases. In fact, our French friends told us about an experience they had recently where having a Christian baptism ceremony at a lake was seen so negatively that the police were called at least twice during the event. While it wasn't illegal, outward, expressive Christian practices can have an extremely negative effect on the community instead of a positive one.


Since the school system is run by the national government, the secularist directives are found there as well. Within the classroom there are strict rules against religious teaching and endorsement. Any visible symbol or indication of religion by anyone, students included, is seen as disrupting the neutrality and equilibrium of the secular learning environment. This includes head coverings for Muslims, Sikhs, and other faiths; large religious jewelry such as crosses or crucifixes; or any garment with a religious message on it, such as t-shirts or jackets with religious iconography. For actual topics in class, anything overtly religious is not allowed and any religious topics can only be studied through the lens of history.

Laïcité in practice

While the idea of Laïcité sounds noble and fair, it should mean that the government treats all religions equally and fairly and doesn't discriminate against anyone based on their religious background. The reality, however, is that it has become something of a religion in itself, used to fight back against minorities and religions that are disliked by those in power. An example of this can be seen in the current discrimination against Muslim immigrants.

The visibility and pressure of the Muslim community in France has caused many hardline atheists to come out and push against the religion citing Laïcité as their reasoning for oppressing and discriminating against these Muslims. As a result, the effort seems to be having the opposite effect than what is desired. Instead of reducing and removing the power of the Muslim community and encouraging them to integrate into French society, they have become more insulated and the anger against the discrimination has caused an increase of radicalization among Muslim youths.



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