- German: Laizismus
In French, laïcité (), Turkish: laiklik, Italian: laicità or with more negative connotations laicismo, is the concept of a secular state, that is, the absence of religious interference in government affairs and government interference in religious affairs. While it is thought that no English word captures the exact meaning of laïcité, which comes from the Greek λαϊκός (laïkós "of the people", "layman"), it is sometimes rendered in English as "laicity" or "laicism". Laïcité is a main component of both the liberal and republican traditions in Europe.
ControversyProponents assert laïcité is based on respect for freedom of thought and freedom of religion. Thus the absence of a state religion, and the subsequent separation of the state and Church, is considered a prerequisite for such freedom of thought. Laïcité is thus distinct from anti-clericalism, which actively opposes the influence of religion and the clergy. Laïcité relies on the division between private life, where adherents believe religion belongs, and the public sphere, in which each individual, adherents believe, should appear as a simple citizen equal to all other citizens, devoid of ethnic, religious or other particularities. According to this conception, the government must refrain from taking positions on religious doctrine and only consider religious subjects for their practical consequences on inhabitants' lives.
Supporters argue that Laïcité by itself does not necessarily imply any hostility of the government with respect to religion. It is best described as a belief that government and political issues should be kept separate from religious organizations and religious issues (as long as the latter do not have notable social consequences). This is meant to protect both the government from any possible interference from religious organizations, and to protect the religious organization from political quarrels and controversies.
Critics of laïcité argue that it is a disguised form of anti-clericalism and individual right to religious expression, and that, instead of promoting freedom of thought and freedom of religion, it prevents the believer from observing his or her religion. In Europe, the controversy often centers around banning of wearing hijab, taxpayers' rights to religious choice in education services and restrictions placed on the construction of new mosques. In the United States, it centers around school prayer and related issues. Another critique is that, in countries historically dominated by one religious tradition, officially avoiding taking any positions on religious matters favors the dominant religious tradition of the relevant country. They point out that even in the current French Fifth Republic (1958–), school holidays follow the Christian liturgical year. However, the Minister of Education has responded to this criticism by giving leave to students for important holidays of their specific religions, and food menus served in secondary schools pay particular attention to ensuring that each religious observer may respect his religion's specific restrictions concerning diets.
Laïcité in different countries
BrazilDuring most of Brazilian history, the Catholic Church had some degree of involvement with the country's government. From 1500 to 1822 Brazil was a colony of Portugal, at a time when it was a Catholic kingdom whose monarchs saw it as their duty to spread Christianity. The common saying in Portugal is "to be Portuguese is to be Catholic", and Brazil certainly owes a large portion of its inheritance to the Portuguese culture. From 1822 to 1889 the country was an independent empire, and the Catholic Church was one of the pillars of the regime.
Separation between Church and state was implemented by a 1890 decree when the monarchy fell and the first republican government was instated. All seven Brazilian constitutions since have a church-state separation article. In the present constitution, the article forbids the Government to "establish religious sects or churches, subsidize them, hinder their activities, or maintain relationships of dependence or alliance with them or their representatives, without prejudice to collaboration in the public interest in the manner set forth by law".
Nevertheless, critics point out that several government practices remain at odds with the true spirit of separation between Church and state. For instance, Brazilian law allowed divorce only after 1977 and abortion remains mostly forbidden. During his visit to Brazil in 2007, which was partially funded by the state, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his hope that a concordat, an agreement on church-state relations, would be signed during his pontificate and the president's term in office.
Many people disagree that there is anything wrong with the current state of affairs. They do not claim that a secular state is a bad idea, but use the argument of tradition and say that the will of the majority should be respected (around three quarters of the population is Catholic). Those are the grounds on which Federal and State Attorneys have rejected several requests for the removal of religious symbols from courts of law and city legislature houses, made by an organization called ''Brasil para Todos. President Sarkozy has criticised this approach as a "negative laicite" and wants to develop a "positive laicite" that recognizes the contribution of faith to French culture, history and society, allows for faith in the public discourse and for government subsidies for faith-based groups. Sarkozy sees France's main religions as positive contributions to French society. He was elected on a platform proposing a modernisation of the Republic’s century-old principle of laicite. He visited the Pope in December 2007 and publicly acknowledged France's Christian roots, while highlighting the importance of freedom of thought , hinting that faith should come back into the public sphere.
In Turkey, a strong stance of secularism has held sway since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's westernization movement in the early 20th century. On March 3, 1924 Turkey removed the caliphate system and all religious influence from the state. Sunni Islam, the majority religion, is now controlled by the Turkish government through the Department of Religious Affairs, and is state-funded. Islamic views which are deemed political are censored in accordance with the principle of secularism.
This system of Turkish laïcité permeates both the government and religious sphere. The content of the weekly sermons in all state funded mosques has to be approved by the state. Also, independent Sunni communities are illegal. Minority religions, like Alevi Islam or Armenian or Greek Orthodoxy, are guaranteed by the constitution as individual faiths and are mostly tolerated, but this guarantee does not give any rights to religious communities. The Treaty of Lausanne gives certain religious rights to Jews, Greeks, and Armenians but not, for example, to Syrian-Orthodox or Roman Catholics.
Recently, the reestablishment of the old Greek Orthodox seminary on Heybeli Island near Istanbul became a political issue in regard to Turkey's accession to EU membership. The EU considers such prohibition to amount to suppression of religious freedom. However, it is pointed out that if Greek Orthodoxy is allowed to reopen a school it will become the only religion in Turkey with the right to an independent religious school. Recent attempts by the conservative government to outlaw adultery caused an outcry in Turkey and was seen as an attempt to legislate Islamic values, but others point out that the legislation was intended to combat polygamy which is still common in rural areas, although not recognized legally. Also, as in France, Muslims are forbidden from wearing the hijab in government institutions such as schools, or the civil service. The ban in universities was lifted in 2008. (The ban is not lifted yet)
United StatesIn the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution contains a similar concept, although the term "laicity" is not used either in the Constitution or elsewhere, and is in fact used as a term to contrast European secularism with American secularism. In his opus Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville notes the synergy between religion and democracy in the United States, and decries what he sees as the excesses of laïcité and anti-clericalism among French democrats.
That amendment includes clauses prohibiting both governmental interference with the "free exercise" of religion, and governmental "establishment" of religion. These clauses have been held by the courts to apply to both the federal and state governments. Together, the "free exercise clause" and "establishment clause" are considered to accomplish a "separation of church and state."
However, separation is not extended to bar religious conduct in public places or by public servants. Public servants, up to and including the U.S. President, often make proclamations of religious faith. In contrast to France, the wearing of religious insignia in public schools is largely noncontroversial as a matter of law in the U.S. In addition, the U.S. government regards religious institutions as tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profits (provided that they do not overtly interfere with politics), which some observers interpret as an implicit act of establishment. Moreover, in military, there are government paid religious chaplain which provide for spiritual needs of soldier.
- The deep roots of French secularism, article by Henri Astier on BBC News online, Sept 1st, 2004
- Karakas, Cemal (2007): Turkey. Islam and Laicism Between the Interests of State, Politics and Society. Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), Germany, PRIF-Report No. 78/2007.
- Conference on Laicite and secularism
laicism in Catalan: Laïcisme
laicism in German: Laizismus
laicism in Spanish: Laicismo
laicism in Esperanto: Laikeco
laicism in Persian: لائیسیته
laicism in French: Laïcité
laicism in Galician: Laicismo
laicism in Korean: 라이시테
laicism in Italian: Laicità
laicism in Dutch: Laïcisme
laicism in Norwegian: Laïcité
laicism in Polish: Laicyzacja
laicism in Portuguese: Laicismo
laicism in Finnish: Laïcité
laicism in Turkish: Laiklik
laicism in Ukrainian: Лаїцизм