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Secularism - Laïcité

Secularism is a constitutional and legal principle whose framework is defined by the law of 9 December 1905. It guarantees freedom of conscience and worship and creates separation of Church and State, which is bound to strict neutrality. "The Republic assures freedom of conscience. It guarantees the freedom to practice religion, restricted solely in the interest of public order" (article 1). However, it "neither recognises nor remunerates nor subsidises any religion" (article 2). Secularism guarantees the freedom of worship and of religion, but also freedom from religion: nobody can be obliged by law to respect religious dogmas or prescriptions. It protects the right to change religion as much as the right to belong to a religion.

Secularism, Historic to the French Republic

Secularism presupposes a separation between the state and religious organisations. The secular republic does not give preferential treatment to its citizens pertaining to their convictions or beliefs, especially through public services or in other institutions. Secularism is not one opinion among many, but the freedom to have an opinion. It is not a conviction but the principle that authorises all convictions, subject to respect for public order.

Secular Schooling

Secular schooling, an even older principle, dates back to the 1882 educational laws of Jules Ferry (secular education) and the Goblet law of 1886 (secular teaching staff), and is based on three principles: freedom of conscience for pupils, separation between public schools and religious groups and equality for all in relation to school and knowledge, regardless of belief or conviction.

Schools are secular

In 2004, a law was introduced to clarify the status of secularism in schools following several years of protests on subjects such as girls wearing the headscarf in schools. The circular applying the law of 15 March 2004 and the 18 May 2004 circular specify the obligations of pupils with regard to the principle of secularism. Neutrality is extended to pupils where they are called on to wear conspicuous signs declaring their religion. Within schools, secularism guarantees that believers and non-believers alike have the same freedom to express their convictions. Respect for this principle includes a prohibition on pupils who might, as a result of their religious conditions :

  • oppose any teaching or method of organising an exam;
  • extract themselves from certain lessons or practise selective absenteeism, absence must be authorised for major religious festivals that do not coincide with school holidays and whose dates are restated every year in an instruction published in the official educational bulletin (http://www.education.gouv.fr/bo/2004/21/MENG0401138C.htm).

Since 2004, a major staff training effort has been undertaken, nationally and within regional education authorities. Many courses have been added to regional training plans. At the national level, courses have been added to training plans aimed at education managers, who are responsible for supporting and training teachers, since 2011.

Educational proposals and training content have been defined and published (A. Bidar (s/coord.), Pour une pédagogie de la laïcité, La documentation française, Paris, 2012).

Secularism Charter - La Charte de la Laïcité

Building on previous work, and in accordance with the recommendations of the Stasi report submitted on 11 December 2003, a Secularism Charter was prepared and presented on 9 September 2013. It explains the meaning and issues behind the principle of secularism and its intrinsic bond with liberty, equality and fraternity in the French Republic and in schools. This charter is now France's reference document on the question of secularism. This charter serves as a reminder that the teaching of the Republic's values is a role entrusted to Schools by the state. It makes clear and easily understood by all how important secularism is for a society based on common values and the freedom of expression and thought. It presents the secularism of a school's teaching staff, teaching methods and curriculum as a guarantee for all students to be able to access any intellectual and cultural resources necessary for them to forge and fulfil their own unique, individual personalities. It is the basis for organising continuing training courses and publishing a variety of educational resources (http://eduscol.education.fr/cid73652/charte-de-la-laicite-a-l-ecole.html).

Support for the Educational Community following the 2015 attacks

The inter-ministerial committee meeting of 6 March 2015, "Equality and citizenship: the republic in actions", restated the will to place secularism and the transmission of values at the heart of educational mobilisation. A one-off teacher and educational staff training plan was thus implemented before the end of the 2014-15 school year to help trainee teachers to tackle issues relating to citizenship (French and European), secularism and the fight against prejudice and discrimination with pupils.

Apart from the Secularism Charter distributed in autumn 2013 and the resources that accompanied its publication (http://eduscol.fr/laicite), online resources have been made available to accompany the Secularism Charter in schools and both theoretical and practical training tools on the principle of secularism, including an online training course on the M@gistère platform, which already enables teachers to improve their knowledge. This secularism programme includes the secular position of the teacher and the question of ethics and neutrality, recommended responses to objections to teaching that are directly or indirectly motivated by religion and responses to issues of school visits. Since September 2015, it has been accompanied by a new online training programme on the secular teaching of religious facts within a historical context. Designed primarily for elementary and secondary schools, this programme provides several educational approaches for discussing religious affairs in class from a secular viewpoint. The outlines are based on actions that already exist in some instances. Others have been added to provide a global plan designed to work with educational staff, pupils and their parents to ensure that the essential French values and principles, such as secularism, are passed on and widely shared.

In addition, mobilising teacher training colleges involved implementing training which help trainee teachers tackle issues relating to citizenship (French and European), secularism and the fight against prejudice and discrimination with pupils.

Legal tools to support the educational community

In autumn 2015, a booklet on secularism was sent to all head teachers and district education inspectors to support them in their missions. The booklet indicates ways of explaining secularism and bringing it to life in schools, provides reference points for educational dialogue and legal elements for use if the principle of secularism is disputed or breached, to ensure that no teaching professionals or teams feel isolated or helpless with regard to respect for the principle of secularism in schools. A clear legal framework provides responses to the most common situations.

A day devoted to secularism in schools

The symbolic date of December 9, which refers to the adoption of the 1905 law, has been chosen to organise an event focusing on secularism and French values. This date is not the only one of its kind. It is part of a wider calendar of educational actions focusing on citizenship that punctuate the school year. It is an opportunity to teach about secularism as part of the new moral and civic education programme. The events organised to mark the day and presenting the work done will help construct and reinforce this shared culture of secularism, in schools and the French republic.

What is éduscol?

Eduscol, the website of the Directorate-general for Schools of the French Ministry for National Education, is aimed at education professionals and, primarily, teachers. Its purpose is to provide them with information by presenting official texts and offering resources to support their implementation on the ground.

Mis à jour le 10 mai 2017
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