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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds In substance, the idea of laïcité in France goes back to the time of the French Revolution, but it was only in 1871 that the French Nobel Prize winner Ferdinand Buisson used this term to support a non-religious school education. After France had already adopted a law for the decision of state and church in 1905, the ecclesiastic property became nationalised. The term ‘laïcité’ was mentioned for the first time in 1946 in the French constitution. Unlike in Germany, as we will hear in the next session, theological faculties of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims are not part of public universities in France.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds Whilst a liberal interpretation of the term ‘laïcité’ is confined to the division of state and church, this is also common in other countries that do not understand themselves as laïcal. Theoretical understanding aims for repelling religion into a smaller and strictly private area. Religions that are marked by a free and open practice of belief, among them, Islam, are experiencing this as an infringement of the state. In Turkey - initially, a laïcal country - the state assumed the supervision of religious sites, paid imams, and dictated what was going to be preached in mosque on Fridays. In 1919, Alsace and Lorraine successfully resisted the implementation of the French regulation.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds The French state, however, supports the passing of care of religions at the military (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim clergymen). At French schools, even the question which religious confession students and teachers hold is forbidden. The membership figures of religious groups are not surveyed in France. It is forbidden by the state to wear religious symbols in schools. This includes even garments like the veil, the kipa or the monastic habit. An attempt of the French president to redefine the relationship between state and religion caused fierce reactions from supporters of laiques.

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 seconds Whereas in Germany, the state directly influences education of clergymen and school teachers of religion, in France, there is no cooperation in this field of the public sphere and, consequently, laicism seems to unintendedly promote religious fundamentalism. This is because religious people might get the feeling that there is no room for them in the public space. At this point, the case of Charlie Hebdo has shown, again, that, in conflictual situations, the violation of religious feelings has not been punished, whereas, on the other hand, the possibility to hurt the religious feelings by means of caricatures was protected.

Skip to 3 minutes and 13 seconds A jurisdiction that treats the emotions of religious as well as non-religious people in the same way in order to ensure the overall goal of an absence of ridicule within the state and its public is currently not visible in France. Hence, the debate on the position of religion in the public sphere is once again sparked.

Laïcité: the state, nation and citizen in France

The term ‘laïcité’, describing the French relationship between state and religion, has a long history, going back to the French Revolution (1789).

Although laïcal systems may look like a blessing to those who would like to see state and religion separated, Professor Martin Tamcke highlights some of the problems facing such a system. Does a state need some control over religious education, which, at present, is impossible in France?

After watching this video, you might be interested in reading this article on a plan by the French prime minister to ban foreign-funded mosques. Is the French state interfering with religion?

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