Libre Pensée and Ligue de l’Enseignement launch joint campaign to preserve separation of religion and state

  • Date / 6 September 2006

A new Joint Declaration signed by IHEU member organization Libre Pensée and the Ligue de l’Enseignement sets out their absolute opposition to legislation that aims to dilute the historic separation of religion and state established by French law in 1905. The Joint Declaration also opposes all discriminatory legislation and the funding of private education from the public purse. The joint signatories have agreed to continue their discussions to seek convergence in the cause of secularism. They propose to open these meetings to all secular organisations, in order to build a coalition to defend secularism both in schools and the State.

Joint Declaration of the Ligue de l’Enseignement
and the Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée

Translation provided by Sam Ayache

The Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée (FreeThought National Federation) and the Ligue de l’Enseignement (Education League) met in Paris on July 7, 2006 in order to discuss the situation on secularism today. Our organisations, among the oldest of the French secularist movement, are the bearers of identities and projects which are different though based on common values. Our history has sometimes been tumultuous. Debates and confrontations, sometimes virulent, are parts of this, as well as struggles fought in common at the service of a secularisation of society and republican institutions. Today, at a time when different questions are raised, we jointly acknowledge the need to confront our analysis and seek convergences.

In this background, the Ligue de l’Enseignement and the Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée are pleased to see that many secularist associations have jointly adopted a declaration : « Do not touch the 1905 Law ». In fact, to embark on a revision of the law obviously implies many risks for the very principle of secularism.

The Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée and the Ligue de l’Enseignement likewise insist on their absolute opposition to two private member’s bills recently put on the agenda of the National Assembly.

The first bill, whose author is the MP Jean-Marc Roubaud, is nothing but the reestablishment of the offence of blasphemy in the press. We have to remind that this offence had disappeared during the Revolution, and only King Charles X’s reactionary regime – he was the sanctimonious king – had tried to re-establish it. There is o possibility for democracy without an absolute freedom of expression and without remembering that all opinions must be recognised the same status. Such a regression, which follows the same line as some demands of the French extreme right, is completely unacceptable.

The second bill, as unacceptable as the first one, was authored by the MP Jacques Myard. According to the provisions of its first article : « No cultural or religious prescription allows anyone to put a veil over one’s in a public street ; anyone going and coming on the territory of the republic must have an unveiled face, allowing one’s recognition or identification » . The third article provides the deportation of all the foreigners wearing an Islamic veil. The text does not even hide its ulterior motives behind the veil of hypocrisies. Only one category of people is targeted, Muslim women. It does not seem that people belonging to Roman Catholic religious female order should be concerned.

Those two bills completely ignore the principles on which a secular republic is based. Their adoption would be a violation of the first article of the constitution as well as the first two articles of the 1905 law, and on the other hand it would lead France to an awkward position concerning its international commitments which it has ratified.

The Ligue de l’Enseignement and the Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée consider that the absolute freedom of conscience established by the first article of the 1905 law includes the right for anyone to have a religion or not to have one as well as the possibility to have either of those believes criticised.

Both belief and non belief are part of individual convictions. The law has nothing to say in such matters, unless one has to define, democratically, the extend of public order. Likewise, law courts should not established themselves as referees of religious fashion.

The strict separation between the world of individual convictions, including religion, and that of the public service, as it was established by the 1905 law, implies a number of consequences : criticising religion or claiming one’s religious belief is a matter for individual freedom of expression only ; the State has the obligation to keep a strict neutrality when it intervenes in the framework of a mission of general interest, which justifies the prohibition of the wearing of any religious sign by public servants.

More generally, the Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée and the Ligue de l’Enseignement, will not accept any law of exception, discriminatory by principle. This is why both organisations have jointly criticised the law of March 15, 2004 concerning the wearing of religious signs or items of clothing in public primary or secondary schools. It was a law for the occasion, with electoral aims and which, in spite of its apparent general wording, was targeting only one category of people. Significantly, the common language often calls it “the law concerning the veil”. The stigmatisation of any category of the population cannot lbut lead to discrimination, xenophobic temptations and communitarian clashes.

The Ligue de l’Enseignement and the Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée are also absolutely opposed to the provisions of article 89 of the law of August 13, 2004 concerning local liberties and responsibilities, which make mandatory the participation of town councils to the cost of education of pupils going to private schools which are located outside the jurisdiction of their territory. Both organisations demand the abrogation of this article which notably increases the public funding of private schools, to the detriment of the development of the secular public service of education.

The Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée and the Ligue de l’Enseignement decide to have further and regular exchanges of their viewpoints in order to seek, in the respect of the diversity of their approaches, all the convergences making it possible the daily implementation of secularism allowing the emancipation of individuals and safeguarding the plurality of opinions. They propose to broaden those meetings to all secular organisations willing to build a coalition that could open new paths for common actions in defence of secularism of School and State.

For the Ligue de l’enseignement
Jean-Michel Ducomte, président
For the Fédération nationale de la Libre Pensée
Christian Eyschen, secrétaire général

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