French Secularism Traces its History to 18th Century Revolution

December 18, 2003

Source: BBC News

On December 18, 2003 the BBC News ran an article on the history of secularism in France, in light of the recent debate over the ban of religious symbols in French public schools: "Secularism is the closest thing the French have to a state religion. It underpinned the French Revolution and has been a basic tenet of the country's progressive thought since the 18th Century. To this day, anything that smacks of official recognition of a religion - such as allowing Islamic headscarves in schools - is anathema to many French people. Even those who oppose a headscarf ban do so in the name of a more modern, flexible form of secularism. This tradition can be seen as a by-product of French Catholicism, as progressives have always seen the pulpit as an enemy, rather than a platform, unlike in some Protestant countries. French Enlightenment thinkers such Voltaire, Diderot and Montesquieu regarded religion as divisive, benighted and intolerant."