Opinion: Secularism Essential for a Cohesive Society; Religious Symbols Promote Individualism

January 30, 2004

Source: The New York Times


On January 30, 2004 The New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Guy Coq, author of a book on secularism in France, in which he argued for the value of laïcité, the closed French word to "secularism." Coq writes, "Our uneasiness about head scarves and other religious symbols in schools is a result of our long, often painful, history. If we bow to demands to allow the practice of religion in state institutions, we will put France's identity in peril. The French word that is closest to secularism, laïcité, was invented in the late 19th century to express several ideas. Laïcité includes, foremost, tolerance...But the laïcité of schools has been eroded by the intrusion of religious symbols, prompted by an excess of individualism, that philosophy so revered by Americans. The necessity of the law that Parliament will debate on Tuesday reveals the regrettable waning of this French tradition. More than ever, in this time of political-religious tensions, school secularism is for us the foundation for civil peace, and for the integration of people of all beliefs into the Republic. If the French hold laïcité so dearly, it is because that principle, as much as the republic and democracy, is essential for a cohesive society."