Assertive Secularism vs. Passive Secularism

1864 Words8 Pages
Assertive Secularism vs. Passive Secularism
On 15th March 2004, France reopened the debate on the separation of the state and the religion by introducing a legislation to forbid the carrying of signs or clothes that indicate an affiliation to a religious group in the primary, secondary and high schools. (“Respect de la laïcité”) (Parvez 287) The supporters of the legislation, particularly in France saw in this law an implementation of secularism, a cornerstone of the public school system in France. Yet, there were several critics of the law. The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom criticized the French government, perceiving the law to represent an infringement on the freedom of expression. (Leane 1032) Whereas the French Constitution along the American Declaration of Independence are the founding texts of a common democracy around the world, their opinion seemed to diverge on this issue. After all Americans have “In God We Trust” printed on dollar bills. How could the French find a mere display of religious belief so offensive seems incomprehensible to many secular Americans. This differing understanding of the law on the either side of the Atlantic can be attributed to differing definition of the term “secularism” in the United States and France. This essay examines the history, legal definition and implementation of secularism in the United States and France to argue that the French secularism is a form of assertive secularism whereas the Americans have adopted a passive form of secularism. It also identifies why these countries differ in their definition of secularism by identifying the presence or the absence of an Ancien régime as the main factor.
A state can be defined as a secular state on the b...

... middle of paper ...

...ville, Alexis. The Old Regime and the Revolution, Volume II: Notes on the French Revolution and Napoleon. Vol. 2. University of Chicago Press, 2001.
11. Hunt, Lynn Avery. Politics, culture, and class in the French Revolution. Vol. 1. Univ of California Press, 2004.
12. Thompson, James Matthew. Napoleon Bonaparte. Blackwell, 1988.
13. Gunn, T. Jeremy. "Religion and Law in France: Secularism, Separation, and State Intervention." Drake L. Rev. 57 (2008): 949.
14. Lake, Peter. Anglicans and Puritans?: Presbyterianism and English conformist thought from Whitgift to Hooker. London: Unwin Hyman, 1988.
15. Bowman, Allen. The Morale of the American Revolutionary Army. American council on public affairs, 1943.
16. Hutson, James H., and Thomas Jefferson. "Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury baptists: A controversy rejoined." The William and Mary Quarterly (1999): 775-790.
Open Document