Secular Centennial

09 December 2005
Today marks the centennial of France’s legislation separating church and state: the framework for its concept of laïcité, and the act that made France the only European country to declare itself a secular entity in its constitution. The 1905 law was originally created to limit the influence of the Catholic Church upon state institutions, namely the education system, but also guaranteed freedom of worship and banned government financing of any denomination. At this anniversary though, the concept of laïcité is much in question, with many Muslim groups asking whether the current policy in fact supports established religions, like Catholicism, above growing religions like Islam, specifically in instances like the government’s helping finance the upkeep of historic Catholic churches, while Muslim congregations must pay for the construction new mosques by themselves. French scholar Raphaël Hadas-Lebel takes a long view of the dilemma in an op-ed published by Pakistan’s Daily Times: “The law of 1905 marked a settlement of a divisive battle that must not be re-fought. There is no room in France for a new religious war. Indeed, when compared to other democratic countries, official secularism no longer appears to be just another exception française. On the contrary, secularism — whatever its particular legal framework — and democracy are intertwined. They must remain so.”

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