The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

Opinion: Mon Dieu!

Does France’s stringent secular policy suppress or strengthen citizens’ freedom of religion?
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“COR-LAICITE 050” by mairieDEcormontreuil is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

France’s national motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité [“Liberty, equality, freedom”], can be seen on the exterior of every school in the country. However, in schools around France, a hotly debated government policy puts these values into question.

France employs a strict policy of constitutional secularism called laïcité in any institution or place within the public sphere of influence, including educational institutions. The Constitution of France protects the freedom of religion, but laïcité confines the practice and expression of religion to private life.

Conflict primarily arises in its role in education. France requires that teachers display posters outlining these rules in French classrooms. Enforced by law, these rules aim to create a secular space for students. For instance, religion is excluded from curricula unless it is an essential part of the course’s subject matter. Laïcité additionally forbids students and school faculty from wearing signs or clothing that indicate a religious affiliation.  

The government seeks to protect children from religious influence in these formative years to allow them to develop their own beliefs. While this goal may seem ethical in intent, it shackles students from expressing their own religion and prevents them from gaining exposure to different faith traditions in order to formulate their own ideas.

Deeply entrenched in France’s past, the rationale for this policy finds its origins in French history dating back to Charlemagne’s reign and the monarchy’s close ties to the Catholic Church. The church’s heavy involvement in state affairs led to the pursuit of secularism during the French Revolution. Eventually, France’s Third Republic passed legislation in 1905 officially separating church and state. The secular state has remained firmly in place ever since, and it has become a central aspect of France’s identity.

Those in favor of laïcité argue that it is key to equality and religious freedom — the choice to believe, or to not. However, in practice, the policy does not have equal implications for all religions, and it particularly impedes the religious practices of the Muslim community.

In practice, the policy does not have equal implications for all religions, and it particularly impedes the religious practices of the Muslim community.

By prohibiting prayer, laïcité denies a fundamental part of the Islamic faith. According to the Quran, Muslims should pray five times throughout the day, a practice called salah. Moreover, many Muslims wear hijabs in adherence to their faith, though scholars have disputed whether the practice should be mandated across the Islamic faith.

French Muslim women who wear hijabs—whether as an expression of their cultural or religious identity—are thus forced to pursue other educational routes, such as costly private schools that receive no government funding but are not required by law to follow laïcité

Furthermore, the French Ministry of National Education has established five fixed breaks throughout the school year, two of which fall on Christmas and All Saints Day—both Christian holidays. Although the government claims to take a neutral stance, religious bias still penetrates decisions pertaining to policy.

Despite the noble aim of laïcité as an equalizer, it unevenly suppresses the French people’s freedom of religion rather than allowing diverse systems of belief to flourish simultaneously. While secular practices can be beneficial in eliminating bias in politics, when taken to an extreme they have the potential to repress the values that France claims to uplift.

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Editors’ note: All opinions expressed on The Uproar are a reflection solely of the beliefs of the bylined author and not the journalism program at NASH.  We continue to welcome school-appropriate comments and guest articles.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Shubak, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Olivia is a senior and a Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Uproar this year. She's passionate about whatever she's writing and likes to explore a range of topics. Outside of the journalism room, she spends her time running Yoga Club and over the summer she traveled around Europe. Her favorite part of her time abroad was swimming in the Adriatic along the coast of Rovinj, Croatia.      

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