During our two-day orientation, we spent a lot of time focusing on one of France’s most important rules in society: Secularism in the government and in schools. La Laïcité, or secularism, is something that is extremely important in French schools and in French society.
French is a secular country under the law. The two most domineering religions amongst citizens are Catholicism and Islam, though France identifies as a Secular country. You don’t see a politician in France tie his or her religion or personal beliefs into his or her politics when voting on laws that will affect everyone– at least not publicly; it is simply against the law. (For example, Nicholas Sarkozy, ex-president of France, passed a law banning the burqa in the public streets back in 2010 when I was studying in Caen. Sarkozy reasons that he did it for safety reasons, to protect citizens from potential terrorists who are hiding under the faceless robes as well as to protect women.)
Below is the translated document we received and discussed in depth, over and over again, during orientation. It lists all the rules, regulations, and details in the regulations of secularism in French schools.
La République est Laïque (The French Republic is Secular):
1. France is a secular, democratic, and social country, who assures equality under the law to all its citizens. France respects the beliefs of all people.
2. The Secular Republic organizes the separation of church and state. The state is neutral in regards to religious or spiritual convictions; there is no official religion of France.
3. Secularism guarantees freedom of conscious for all. Each person is at liberty to believe in anything or not to believe in anything at all.
4. Secularism permits the exercise of citizenship, while concealing the freedom of each individual with equality and brotherhood.
5. The French Republic assures respect of each of these principles in all educational establishments.
6. Secularism in schools offers students the chance to forge their own personality and citizenship. Secularism also gives students the chance to make their own choices in regards to religion.
7. Secularism assures access to a communal and shared culture.
8. Secularism permits students’ freedom of expression in the limit of respecting France’s values and convictions.
9. Secularism implies the rejection of all instances of violence and discrimination, guaranteeing equality between boys and girls as well as respect and understanding for all religions.
10. It is everyone’s responsibility to pass along a sense of worth to each and every student, in addition to all of the other principles of the French Republic.
11. Under no circumstance should an individual express his or her political or religious beliefs through speech or dress and any other matter whilst at work.
L’école est Laïque (School is Secular)
12. Teaching methods are secular. With the goal of guaranteeing students the most open, objective, and diverse views of the world, no subject that questions science shall be taught. No student may express a religious or political conviction in order to justify or answer a question.
13. Students may not use their religious affiliations or beliefs as an excuse to not conform to French laws.
14. In public schools, we respect secularism. It is forbidden to wear religious signs or symbols on school grounds.
15. Secularism is to be maintained in all school-related student activities.
I, along with many American assistants in France I have met, am torn on these French laws. It’s a very complicated set of regulations (and perhaps much too complicated for a single blog post), simply due to the fact that this absolutely does not exist to the same extreme in the United States. There are parts about these laws I feel are much better and more practical, and other parts I feel are actually more intolerant than in the states. Please note that while reading this I will express my own personal views and experiences. However, all of these opinions are my own, based on my own experiences– but also as someone who is aware of her privileges in life. I am going to try to keep this piece somewhat un-biased, but please realize that my feelings on La Laïcité are based on my own feelings and experiences of religious freedoms and politics in the United States.
Here is why France Has it Right (IMHO):
Even though the United States claims to be a country who claims to be tolerant and “separates the church and state,” we simply do not. For example, some politicians have no problem integrating American values with Christian values, and God, even though church and state are not supposed to mix. The United States has the word “God” and the slogan,”One Nation Under God,” in our Pledge of Allegiance and engrained within our Constitution; I understand and respect that these are important historical documents, and I understand that each person interprets “God” differently, whether it be in a religious manner or otherwise. However I think it is still wrong that the United States government politicians continuously reference, interpret, and justify their religious-based politics (even if it is an important part of their PERSONAL lives) with the reasoning being that “This is what our Founding Fathers wanted,” even though these documents were written over 300 years ago.
In France, marriage is a governmental institution, not a religious one. You need to be married in the town hall before you can be married in a church. France’s president recognized and passed same-sex marriage earlier this year– there was no vote or debate. Instead of having politicians debate and the citizens vote on whether or not two people have the right to love each other, Hollande simply passed the law, regardless of his own religious beliefs, because it is an equal right for all people. (And as I said before, marriage is not religiously-based in France, but it is a way for two people to unite their love and get a huge tax deduction).
Finally, during all of my time in France, I have never seen a commercial, advertisement or a protest questioning or discussing women’s reproductive rights, because in France these views are private and between women and their doctors– not politicians and the churches. My French friend explained to me, “In France, everyone is Pro-Choice because it’s the law.”
Here is Why France Has it Wrong (IMHO):
I think la Laïcité denies the freedom of religious expression, and therefore creates more religious intolerances (and over the past four years, I’ve come to further support this statement and further question the legality and consistency of la laïcité.) Students and teachers, and citizens in the United States can wear their Islamic or Sikh head wraps wherever they go. People can also wear their religious crosses and Stars of David’s and display their religious-based tattoos. I believe that by displaying and discussing these differences rather than hiding them, we eliminate religious intolerance. I believe if we can be more open about religion, we can better understand different people and cultures; both France and the United States welcomes many immigrants with different religious practices and ways of life. Additionally, I believe French secular laws are racist and xenophobic, and that they wrongly target a very specific (and already oppressed) group of people. With the issues of the Burkini Bans in 2016, as well as France’s continuation of displaying crèches (nativity scenes) in the town halls, I find myself agreeing with the ideals of France’s secularism less and less.
What do you think about religious Secularism (la laïcité) in France?