France’s Other Enlightenment: Laïcité, Politics and the Role of Religion in French Law

  •  Herman Salton    


Although the separation of Church and State was a traumatic event for France, this article argues that its legal product—the Law of 1905—was and remains respectful of religious freedom. By considering the relevant literature and by reviewing the key laws and judicial decisions on the matter, this article also suggests that, for France, laïcité represented ‘the other Enlightenment’, that is to say, a moment when national identity was reawakened, if not formed anew. The piece concludes that the reason for this lies in the fact that, in 1905, France’s Founding Fathers had the courage to distance the country’s bloody religious past from its legal system, thus producing a statute (the Law of Separation) and a concept (laïcité) that fostered tolerance rather than conflict.

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