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Assaults against laicite (July 2003)

Since a few months, a battle has been taking place whereby some French opinion trends are attempting to appropriate and redefine the concept of " laicite ", a french concept which encompasses the ways the State and religions organize their relationship, which includes a neutrality and non-intervention attitude from the State regarding the various religions. This fight is in fact a new fever upsurge in a challenge initiated with the 1789 Revolution, by the so-called " Jacobins ".

This argument takes place in a french context marked by a heavy centralisation by the State, which exerts a regulation on thoughts : as evidenced by officiel definitions and well bound domains of science, democracy, medicine and education. Attributing to itself the former role of the Catholic Church, the French State has indeed " inherited " a strategic position, more than anywhere else, where it can direct consciences collectively, which maintains a permanent fight between ideological groups seeking to own this lever and to promote by this means their own vision of the world.

Today, some would like to re-define what is laicite, and it is urgent to expose these attempts, as well as the false concepts put forward :

The " rationality " argument

Some would say that laicite would be a paradise for rationality, which is summarized in an official note sent by the former government to all public schools which explained that " the laic ideal includes preventing irrational and bad effects of relativism ", continuing by a warning against all non-standard religious or philosophical beliefs. This was a bad trial indeed, as many of these new minority groups promote, instead of an absence of values, a new evaluation and balance between those - especially in education - in order to take into account the whole personality of the child, both social and spiritual, and not intellect alone. Such an education, fulfilling its purpose for real, would solve more than a problem in the suburbs.

Under the banner of a laic nationalism

If you listen to a few philosophers, the french thinking is the universal thinking, and reversely. Outside the French Thought and model, no salvation is possible ! Which is a nationalist attitude, dimly disguised if any, showing a dogmatism hard to stand up for - but which exerts a very sensible influence on many French people, whether aware or not of the fact - and which repeats verbatim the " republican " catechism of our childhood. Many other models exist in Occident, which guarantee an authentic pluralism.Up

Some well known sociologists label these french narcissism & arrogance as " a colonialist stench ".

Laicite would create a " public space " purified of any reference to beliefs. The same ideological groups would redefine laicite as implying the erasing of any reference to religions from the " public space ". This often reflects a true totalitarian impulse, when one can observe that, from their viewpoint, the so called " public space " includes the parliament and representative institutions, public education, work, medicine, practices and professions, exhibitions, books fairs, the streets (yes !) and why not Internet. What's left ? The family circle ? But, following a charitable report by such or such association, the police or state agents will come to your home and inspect how you educate your children, your ideas will be assessed as potential contamination to them, your way of taking care (healing, etc.) will be verified as being " normal " or not.

Whereas, to the contrary, laicite is supposed to protect the expression of one's beliefs in the " public space ", provided they are not imposed to other people, and this is in fact one of the fundamentals of the French Declaration of the Human Rights.

Would laicite be a substitute for religion ?

Many regard laicite as almost sacred, considering it is as a substitute for religion, or rather " the " religion designed to overcome all other ones, as a kind of historical conclusion, idealizing meanwhile the " temples for knowledge " that should be the schools and a common culture. Historians demonstrate how the current rituals taking place in the French Parliament were originally designed to imitate the ceremonials of the Catholic Church - in order to rival with it. The purpose was to " stage " the Republican Religion.

This counter-religion would be close to exclusive, driving back other ideas, now shameful, in the " private space ", if not hunting for them as dangerous " heresies ".

However, Laicite is a cultural and political idea, it does not operate on the same ground as spiritual search, and where there should be substitution between the two, the penalty would be confusion and totalitarism. We have witnessed all along the twentieth century the deadly effects of politics elevated to a sacred religion status.


Last falsehood, laicite would be redefined as baning any and all proselytism. False, of course ! The French Constitution guarantees the free expression, even publicly, of one 's beliefs, except for a few specific places (State Institutions). This freedom of expression cannot be a privilege for the sole unions and political groups !

Power's attitude

We can only observe that the issue being under debate is very much related to sensational fuss around islamic veils which, by the way, would concern two hundreds young women in the courntry, and one can see that the evaluation of the problem is focused on muslims' integration within society. Thus, weirdly, the Republic " does not recognize any religion ", but is very actively involved in setting up a representative committee for Islam in France.

Nevertheless, we consider with satisfaction the very recent creation of a committee of evaluation on laicite, including recognized and competent personalities. Away from militant battles and the emergency of tolls, we may hope that this council will listen and deliberate with wisdom.

Leads for the future

Working towards the acceptance of new spiritual, thought and life trends, and towards the end of a system where ostracism is officially backed up and financed, we consider that this punctual debate - as any law that would have to be voted in a hurry - completely omits the difficult situation endured by " non standard " beliefs and conducts, although these are well accepted in other similar countries.

We consider that the fundamentals of laicite must be held upon and no re-definition should be permitted. The attitude that should prevail in all avenues is respect, respect of the host country and its culture by immigrants, respect of the beliefs and culture of other people by the host country. But also respect by the whole society of the needed freedom of beliefs for all its members, even non-immigrants (!), and freedom to imagine and create their lives per their metaphysical or philosophical choices.

Having common rules, this is agreed upon, but with a spirit of tolerance and open-mindeness. The extremist acts of a few cannot be a justification to penalize all the community.

The " Republic ", which should protect freedom of religion, cannot stigmatize such or such religion and forbid its expression without violating laicite. It cannot restrain freedom in the name of freedom.

11 jul 2003