Laïcité and French Secularism 

Laïcité and French Secularism 

This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details “Laïcité and French Secularism”. The topic “Laïcité and French Secularism” has relevance in the “Polity and Governance” section of the UPSC CSE exam.

For Prelims:

What is Laïcité?

For Mains:

GS2:  Polity and Governance
Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries

Why in the news?

The French government recently banned wearing the abaya in state-run schools, citing violations of the Laïcité principle, the French Concept of Secularism.


Laïcité: French Concept of secularism

  • Coined in the 19th century, Laïcité denotes the formal separation of the State and Church.
  • It advocates removing religious values from the public sphere and replacing them with secular values like liberty, equality, and fraternity.
  • The core objective is to foster tolerance and assimilation, confining religion to the private sphere.
  • The state plays a crucial role in upholding Laïcité in governance and public affairs.


Historical Roots of Laïcité

  • Laïcité emerged following the French Revolution in 1789.
  • It took concrete shape through The Law of 1905, establishing state-run secular schools during the Third Republic.
  • The law guarantees freedom of conscience and worship unless it conflicts with public order.
  • Although publicly funded Catholic schools exist in France, but most students attend free, secular public schools.


Demographic Shifts and Challenges

  • Due to France’s homogeneity, Laïcité faced limited issues during most of the 20th century.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, decolonisation in North Africa led to an influx of immigrants, mainly from Muslim countries. These demographic changes resulted in occasional tensions.
  • Over the years, global and domestic events, such as 9/11, the rise of anti-immigration parties like the National Front, and attacks like Charlie Hebdo and Nice, increased anti-Muslim sentiments.
  • The Stasi Commission’s recommendation led to a 2004 law banning “ostentatious” religious symbols in public spaces.
  • In 2011, face-covering veils were prohibited. These decisions shifted the focus towards Muslim practices.
  • In 2020, following a teacher’s beheading, homeschooling was banned for children over three years old, and Muslim leaders were asked to agree to a “charter of republic values.”
  • Until now, the Abayas remained a grey area, as they were considered fashionable garments tied to Arab culture.


Way Forward:

  • Promote education about Secularism to emphasise tolerance and equality.
  • Ensure Secularism accommodates diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.
  • Encourage respectful dialogue among different groups.
  • Provide clear guidelines to prevent misuse of secularism laws.
  • Uphold individual rights while maintaining a secular public sphere.
  • Implement Secularism without discrimination against any group.
  • Adapt policies for a multicultural population.
  • Encourage balanced public discourse on secularism issues.
  • Regularly assess and adjust secularism policies to align with evolving societal values and needs.


By embracing these principles, societies can foster Secularism that respects individual freedoms, promotes social harmony, and accommodates the rich diversity of beliefs and cultures.


Sources: Understanding Laïcité, the French principle of Secularism – The Hindu 


Q1. With reference to Laïcité, consider the following statements: 

  1. Laïcité, an American Principle of Secularism, denotes a strict separation of the State and Church.
  2. The Concept of laïcité, or Secularism, arose after the American Revolution 1776.
  3. It guarantees freedom of thought and religion unless it disrupts public order.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 3 only 

(d) None 

Answer: (c) 


Q2. Consider the following: 

  1. Indian Secularism respects all religions, promoting harmony and equality.
  2. French Secularism embraces and celebrates cultural and religious diversity.
  3. Indian Secularism does not fund or support any religious practices.

How many of the abovementioned statements are correct?

(a) Only one 

(b) Only two 

(c) All three 

(d) None 

Answer: (a)

Q3. Discuss the Concept of Laïcité in France and its implications on religious freedom and cultural diversity. Compare and contrast the principles of Secularism in India and France.

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