Religious Freedom in the French Republic Restoring the Spirit of French Secularism Publication date : May 20, 2014
Jean Picq is a magistrate at the Court of Auditors and a professor at Sciences Po. He is the author of a noted report on the French State.
In the aftermath of totalitarianism, freedom of religion was recognised as a human right and defended by international human rights conventions on the same grounds as freedom of conscience. These decisions have had repercussions on laïcité, the French concept of secularism, which limits religion to the private sphere and has a tendency to be defensive.
How can France reconcile the exigency of neutrality, as imposed by the state, and religious believers’ legitimate desire to express their convictions, even in public places? Some people fear that a less rigid conception of laïcité could pave the way for religious turmoil, now that religious issues are increasingly exploited for political ends.
The author takes a step backward to examine this highly sensitive issue. Drawing on Spinoza, Lefort, Lévinas, Gauchet and Ricoeur, he makes us understand the links between politics and religion. He urges the French to adopt a multiple, open laïcité, while demonstrating that, at its core, laïcité is the art of living together — and one that is always under construction.
• A crucial contemporary subject. Issues concerning birth, life, death and the family have incited members of various religious faiths to become politically active.
• A reflection, in the company of some eminent thinkers, on how to find the road to a pacified secularism.