Understanding 'laicité': The ins and outs of state secularism

FRENCH CONNECTIONS – Thurs. 21.01.16: This week we take a closer look at a concept that is fundamental to life in France: "laicité". Quite literally it’s translated as secularism, the separation of church and state, but France’s brand of secularism is quite particular and controversial.


A product of French philosophy and history, "laicité" was signed into law in 1905. The Law on the Separation of the Churches and State requires the government to remain neutral in terms of faith, while at the same time safeguarding everyone’s freedom to practice their own religion.

Concretely, religion is banned from state matters and public schools. But the application of secularism in practice is subject to some controversy. Critics say state secularism is too extreme and is increasingly used to stigmatize Muslims. Meanwhile, proponents say laicité allows us to live together in harmony and protects our freedom.

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