Tag Archives: Laicite

À La Lanterne

A reader points out that today is Bastille Day, the anniversary of the French Revolution, which brought laïcité to Europe. In commemoration whereof, here is a fun quiz from NPR about the Marseillaise, an anthem that will raise the ire of all Throne-and-Altar types. I’m not naming names.

Laïcité in Rome

S. Nicolas des Lorrains

This week, CLR Forum is in Rome, where we’re co-hosting our third international conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” on June 20-21. For people interested in law and religion, Rome is an endlessly fascinating place. On practically every corner, you stumble upon evidence of the long relationship–sometimes cooperative, sometimes antagonistic–between church and state.

Here’s an example. The photo above shows the façade of the Church of San Nicola dei Lorensi, behind Piazza Navona. San Nicola one of a handful of historic French “national” churches in Rome–churches that historically have served as homes for pilgrims from France. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, on the other side of the piazza–the one with the famous Caravaggios–is a more well-known example. As the name suggests, San Nicola was the church for pilgrims from the region of Lorraine. It was built in the 17th Century, but must have fallen into grave disrepair over the centuries, because it was completely restored in the last decade.

Note the placard above the doorway in the photograph: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” This, of course, is the motto of the French Republic–the laïc French Republic. The motto is meant to capture the secular nature of the Republic and the separation of church and state. It’s not an insult, necessarily, but it definitely connotes a rejection of the Catholicism of the old regime. So what is the motto doing over the doorway of an old Catholic church in the heart of Rome?

The answer is, as far as I can tell, is this. San Nicola is owned by a French governmental organization called “Les Pieux Etablissements de la France à Rome et à Lorette,” administered by the French ambassador to the Holy See. According to its website (in French), the organization exists to maintain the historic French national churches, welcome French-speaking pilgrims, and organize cultural events that promote France in Rome.

This isn’t as strange as it may first appear. As readers of our 2010 symposium on laïcité know, the French government owns many church buildings in France, all that existed as of 1905, the date of the Law on the Separation of Churches and the State. Notwithstanding the commitment to laïcité, the 1905 law gives the French government title to church property; the government allows religious bodies to use the property at its discretion. At the time of enactment, the Third Republic required churches to affix signs with the republican motto on their doorways–to demonstrate, I imagine, that there was a new sheriff in town. Most of these signs have now disappeared, though you can still occasionally find them. I remember seeing one on the Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris a few years ago.

It isn’t strange, then, that the French government owns and maintains San Nicola today. According to the website of the French ambassador, San Nicola was restored in 2005 partly with funds from the Regional Council of Lorraine–that is, with public money. During the work, someone–a secularist council member? an embassy staffer?–must have decided it would be a good idea to restore the republican motto as well. So there it is today, a witness, to those who know the story, of the profoundly complicated relationship between religion and the state in France–and in Rome, too.

Fredette, “Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship”

Next month, Temple University will publish 2272_regConstructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship, by Jennifer Fredette (San Diego State University). The publisher’s description follows.

The standing of French Muslims is undercut by a predominant and persistent elite public discourse that frames Muslims as failed and incomplete French citizens. This situation fosters the very separations, exclusions, and hierarchies it claims to deplore as Muslims face discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

In Constructing Muslims in France, Jennifer Fredette provides a deft empirical analysis to show the political diversity and complicated identity politics of this relatively new population. She examines the public identity of French Muslims and evaluates images in popular media to show how stereotyped notions of racial and religious differences pervade French public discourse. While rights may be a sine qua non for fighting legal and political inequality, Fredette shows that additional tools such as media access are needed to combat social inequality, particularly when it comes in the form of unfavorable discursive frames and public disrespect.

Presenting the conflicting views of French national identity, Fredette shows how Muslims strive to gain recognition of their diverse views and backgrounds and find full equality as French citizens.

1000 Mots

Salomone on Proposals to Ban Religious Dress in French Universities

My St. John’s colleague, Rosemary Salomone, has written an essay on proposals to ban religious dress in French universities, “Should the Veil Be Banned in Higher Education?” Here’s a synopsis:

The piece discusses competing approaches to the uniquely French concept of “laicite,” a form of secularism, and the current debate in France over a proposal from the High Council for Integration to ban ostensible religious signs or clothing from French public universities. Though the proposal does not mention Islam, Professor Salomone argues that the target clearly is the wearing of the Islamic “hijab” or headscarf. Professor Salomone questions the reasons offered for the ban, based on alleged incidents of religious conflicts in universities, which the Minister of Higher Education and Research and the president of the Conference of University Presidents refute. She warns that banning the veil would unjustly deny some Muslim young women their only option for higher education and further isolate them culturally and religiously.  She further suggests that the debate ignores the forces of globalization, transnationalism, and European integration, the consequent rise of “world citizens” among the younger French population, and the gradual integration of Muslims into French society that inevitably will loosen the French approach to “laicite,” and perhaps sooner than the current debate would lead us to believe.

Lecture on Laïcité and Changes in French Society (Feb. 25)

NYU’s Maison Française will host a lecture by French historian Jean Baubérot (École Pratique des Hautes Études), “La Laïcité face aux mutations de la société française,” on February 25. Baubérot is identified with laïcité en mouvement, a school that represents a middle ground between the laïcité positive of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with its less hostile view of  religion, and the more militantly secular laïcité de combat. Details are here

DeGirolami on Hate Speech in America and France

Here’s an interview with CLR’s Marc DeGirolami in France-Amérique on the differences between the legal treatment of hate speech in France and the United States. Check it out (in French).

Good Thing They Didn’t Try It in France

Anatole France famously observed that the law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges. What would he have said about this weekend’s events in Marseille? At a rally in solidarity with Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band currently in prison for hooliganism, a group of protesters donned the band’s trademark neon balaclavas (above). The police immediately arrested the protesters for violating the French ban on veiling one’s face in public. The ban, which went into effect last year, was obviously directed at Islamic niqabs. To avoid any appearance of bias, however, the law formally forbids face veils generally. If tried and convicted, the protesters are subject to a fine of €150 and a compulsory citizenship course. CLR published a symposium on the ban and other aspects of church-state relation in France in 2010 – check it out here.

Bayart on the Secular and the Laic in France and Turkey

An interesting piece in Le Monde by Jean-François Bayart (Centre Nationale de la Récherche Scientifique) on the meanings of laïcité, more (as with the Pera book) as a piece of cultural anthropology than for the substance of the views expressed.  The author’s sense and description of the differences between French and Turkish laïcité are particularly worth reading in this respect.

Pierik and Van der Burg on Neutrality

Roland Pierik (Amsterdam) and Wibren Van der Burg (Erasmus University Rotterdam) have posted a new piece, What Is Neutrality?, on SSRN.  The abstract follows. — MLM

One of the central axioms of liberalism is that government should treat its citizens with equal respect and concern. One way to achieve that goal is that government should be neutral with respect to the variety of ideas of the good life its citizens endorse. The classic liberal interpretation of neutrality is that government should not embrace or penalize particular conceptions of the good life, but should provide a neutral framework within which the various and potentially conflicting conceptions of the good life can be pursued. Important ways of providing such a neutral framework are the employment of general laws that affect all citizens equally – or so it is assumed – and the exclusion of religious arguments and symbols from political debates and the public sphere in general.

In this paper we want to reinvestigate the question of liberal neutrality. We contend that liberal discussions have been dominated – if not hijacked – by one particular interpretation of what neutrality could imply, namely, exclusive neutrality, that aims to exclude religious and cultural expressions from the public sphere. Although we acknowledge the importance of this exclusive interpretation of neutrality in specific contexts, we will argue that that it is only one of several relevant interpretations. To substantiate our claim, we will firstly elaborate upon inclusive neutrality. To do so, we will formulate two supplementary interpretations of neutrality: proportional neutrality and compensatory neutrality. Secondly, we will argue that in most contexts inclusive proportional neutrality is more appropriate than exclusive neutrality.

Our elaboration of these different interpretations of the neutrality ideal can help to acknowledge that some political disputes should not be seen in terms of the antithesis between liberal neutrality and illiberal multiculturalism but of a clash between various valid but incompatible interpretations of what liberal neutrality can imply. In these cases there is no simple or straightforward answer to the question which interpretation of neutrality should prevail. Moreover, since neutrality is not an end in itself, it must be balanced against other liberal values, mentioned above. Philosophical analysis can only show which values are at stake in this balancing act; actual choices can only be made in specific contexts.