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Schools mark ‘Laïcité’ day

The values of church-state separation and secularism are celebrated today at a time when many feel they are under attack

TODAY schools are marking the importance of the secular state with the third Journée de la laïcité - an issue which is especially to the fore this year due to the terrorist attacks.

The day was introduced in 2013, along with other initiatives such as a charter on secular values which was to be put up in schools. However this year the principle of secularism is seen as especially important with religious extremism back in the headlines due to attacks in January and last month.

Schools were invited to organise activities to help young people reflect on laïcité, which - as we explained in this 2013 article - is considered a bedrock of the modern French state and is meant to help everyone ‘live together’ harmoniously.

The concept refers to church-state separation and the idea that people should be free to practise religion, but that no religion is favoured and religion should not impinge too much on public life.

Where the line should be drawn is often a matter of controversy, with debates over the wearing of the Muslim headscarf (banned in schools, along with other conspicuous symbols of religion like wearing crosses), or the full niqab (which may not be worn in public) or such matters as substitute (halal or vegetarian) options in school canteens or women-only swimming sessions sometimes requested by Muslim communities.

Equally, controversy over Christmas cribs being placed in state buildings such as mairies comes up regularly.

The date of November 9 was chosen for the Journée de la laïcité because it marks the passing of a key law in 1905 on the separation of church and state.

One of the leaders of parents’ federation FCPE in Paris, Hervé-Jean Le Niger, told Le Figaro they have been explaining the importance of the concept to parents. He said: “Parents, like society as a whole, want clarification about what secularism means in France. They have a lot of discussions about the subject. A lot of them really feel that this laïcité, this feeling of everyone living together, was attacked on November 13.”

A plan to hold a gathering of parents in Place de la République in Paris to mark the day was cancelled after the Paris attacks, however FCPE has invited parents instead to post photos of themselves posing with a relevant slogan on Twitter, using the hashtag #LaFCPEMLaLaïcité The organisation plans to put them together to form one big picture.

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