Confusion reigns over government vision of a secular France


Just like the Left in general, and indeed many political parties in France, the government is divided over the key issue of secularism and its precise scope in French society. An example of this confusion is the forthcoming Parliamentary bill on religious neutrality in privately-run crèches which will be considered by the National Assembly on May 13th. President François Hollande and most of his government are opposed to the measure, even if it appears prime minister Manuel Valls might be more favourable. Yet after a backroom deal with political allies, MPs from the ruling Socialist Party appear committed to voting through the measure despite their own divergent views on the subject. As Lénaïg Bredoux reports, the resulting lack of clarity is a prime example of François Hollande's style of government.

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Ever since the terror attacks in January, the issue of 'secularism' – the separation of church and state - has been at the heart of a debate about the nature of French society. President François Hollande and prime minister Manuel Valls refer to it frequently when they discuss their ideas of how people should “live together” in France. The problem is, however, that no one in government has really defined just what the limits and scope of secularism are. The result is that the government’s official stance on the issue has been vague, pulled in different directions by contradictory statements and actions. In other words, the government has appeared just as divided on this fundamental question as the Left in general, other political movements, the National Assembly and wider society.