A huge rally in support of the French Separation of Religion and State was organised in Paris on 10 December 2005 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Law of Separation of Religion and State. Congregating at the Place de la Republique in the cold afternoon, thousands of marchers walked towards the Place Richelieu-Drouot chanting slogans in support of secularism and laïcité, demanding abrogation of anti-laique laws, insisting that state funds go only to the public schooling system and calling for abrogation of the clerical status for Alsace Moselle.
IHEU’s full member organisation La Libre Pensee was present in full force, with some of the Libre Pensee regional sections bringing their impressive flags, some of them as old as the 1905 law – indicating the crucial role the Libre Pensee played in achieving the law. Representatives and members of the Union des Athees, le Comite Laicite Republique, le Mouvement Europe et Laicite (CAEDEL), l’Union Rationaliste, l’Association du Chevalier de la Barre, Laicite Liberte and the Libre Pensee were cheered by hundreds of sympathetic onlookers along the march route. Because of emergency regulations in force since the recent riots in France, the demonstation had to stop at Place Richelieu-Druot. Once there, despite the cold, the great numbers of demonstrators filled the streets from one metro station to another and beyond! Fraternal participation came from Belgium Luxemburg, Italy, the UK, Spain, Portugal and India. Greetings and best wishes came from as far as Argentina and New Zealand. IHEU was represented by Executive Director Babu Gogineni who was one of the three speakers at the end of the demonstration. Click here to read his speech (in French).
There were repeat reports on the important TV channels LCI and FR3, both of which covered the event several times, with varying degrees of accuracy. The respected French newspaper Le Monde carried a half-page article on French laicite on the same day as the rally.
Marc Blondel. freethinker and trade unionist who led the march said “It is laicite alone which guarantees equality for all citizens, Laicite is the fight against all religious privileges which are conferred by birth. It is laicite which creates the fraternity necessary for solidarity. It is laicite which finally liberates the individual from subjugation, thus becoming the basis of liberty”. Jean-Michel Quillardet, Grand Maà®tre du Grand Orient de France recalled the involvement of the Free Masons in support of the ideals of the French Republic and of Laicite. The Grand Orient de France wanted the 1905 law to be implemented fully, with no exceptions or deviations.
Babu Gogineni, IHEU’s Executive Director pointed out that there can be no true democracy without laicite and without separation of Church and State. This is applicable in all countries in all continents and Laicite cannot be seen as a French exception. “What was voted on in 1905 is more than a law. It is the promulgation into law of an important concept.
– A concept which does not admit discrmination between citizens on the basis of their religion.
– A concept which admits of no privileges either for the clergy or for members of a religious group, or those without any religion”.
Laicite is an arrangement which confines religion strictly to the private domain. It is an arrangement which assures the separation of religious and political affairs. It is laicite which assures state neutrality towards all sections of society, whatever be their religious or non religious affiliation”.
An account of the march and the text of the speech made by the chief organiser of the march, Christian Eyschen, General Secretary of the Libre Pensee Francaise can be read here (in French).