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21 Cardozo L. Rev. 1267 (1999-2000)
French Secularism, or Laicite

handle is hein.journals/cdozo21 and id is 1281 raw text is: FRENCH SECULARISM, OR LAICITA
Michel Troper*
French secularism--or lait-is usually defined as a system
in which there is a separation between religion and the state. That
is to say, political and administrative powers are exercised by
nonreligious authorities.'  In that sense, the United States is
sometimes considered in France a lac state, even if this term is not
used, because in the United States the state is independent of any
particular religion.
If the United States practiced larcit, without being aware of
the term, we could equate American la~cit6 with separation
between church and state.      Separation is not, however, an
appropriate translation of lakcitg because they are not really the
same thing-there is a distinctiveness to French secularism. This
distinctiveness is immediately apparent when one examines the
rules that apply to French secularism but which are not applied to
the principle of the separation of religion and state in other
countries. Let us take one very simple real-life example: a teacher
in a French public school was sanctioned for wearing a small gold
cross on a chain around her neck. Such a sanction was considered
to follow logically from the principle of secularism, but would not
follow merely from the principle of separation as understood in
the United States.    I will first examine the reasons for the
distinctiveness of French secularism.   Second, I will describe
various ambiguities and difficulties arising from this distinction.
Finally, I will attempt to construct a general typology of the
attitudes of the state regarding religious values.
The   distinctiveness  of  French   secularism  cannot   be
understood without taking into account several factors.
* Professor, Universitd de Paris X-Nanterre; Member, Institut Universitaire de
France; Director, Centre de Th6orie du Droit de l'Universit6 de Paris X.
1 See VOCABULAIRE JURIDIQUE 454 (Gdrard Cornu ed., 2d ed. 1992).
2 See GUY HAARSCHER, LA LAICrrt 3 (2d ed. 1998).


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