Defining the troubled notion of secularism in France

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Jean-Louis Bianco is head of France’s Secularism Monitoring Centre, a public body that advises public institutions, local authorities and the private sector, among others, on the country’s laws on secularity and their application. Amid an increasingly tense political debate over multiculturalism in France, the legislation has rarely been so fiercely championed - but also brought into question. To address the misunderstandings by both camps, Bianco travels France each week to discuss the principle and the detail of the law with various sections of the population. Mathieu Magnaudeix followed him on one such trip to a small town in north-east France.

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“It’s a word that one hears all the time, sometimes to talk nonsense about it,” said Jean-Louis Bianco, 72, a former minister under the late socialist president François Mitterrand, for whom he previously served as chief of staff, and who is now chairman of the Observatoire de la laïcité , which in English goes by the name of the Secularism Monitoring Centre.