On French Laicité

June 7, 2017 | By French Culture

On June 1st, Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, Thomas Michelon welcomed the LICRA (International League Against Racism & Anti-Semitism), Adam Gopnik, Pascal Bruckner, Paul Berman, and Patrick Weil to Albertine Books for a discussion on the concept of French Laïcité.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

I am Thomas Michelon, deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy.

Welcome to this special event on French Laicité! I am glad to welcome the International League Against Racism & Anti-Semitism (LICRA), which has organized this evening with us, and I am very grateful to Adam Gopnik, Pascal Bruckner, Paul Berman and Patrick Weil for being with us tonight.

French laïcité is a very particular concept which has led to several misunderstandings or other strong opinions outside of France. This is why discussing and explaining what laïcité is, which our guests will be doing tonight, is essential: it helps us understand the specific meaning and stakes of French secularism.

French secularism, developped after centuries of religious tensions in our country, basically establishes that religious matters are and should always only be a private issue: which is to say that they should never conflict with the public sphere: it is thus essential to recall that laïcité does not call for a rejection of religion, but for separation between Church and State. It led our new president, Emmanuel Macron, to remind us when presenting his program for France that “French laïcité is first and foremost a text about tolerance that was written so that everyone could find a place in our society”.

Today, our society has changed and is subject to diverse streams of thought. The concept of secularism is extremely important in French history and culture, and the law voted in 1905 to codify this still stands strong, but we have to keep in mind that working and discussing together is necessary to realize a common future. Where will laicité’s place in society be in our future?  I will now let our experts debate this question.

Adam Gopnik, welcome! Adam, you write for the New Yorker in the areas of culture and politics, and you know France very well since you have been a correspondent in Paris for ten years. Thank you for moderating tonight’s conversation.

Before giving you the floor, I would like to give a special thanks to Alain Jakubowicz and Martine Trink Rubenstein of the International League Against Racism & Anti-Semitism (LICRA) who have done a fantastic job organizing this event and gathering such an impressive panel.