Foreword: Laicite in Comparative Perspective
Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, Vol. 49, 2010
St. John's University School of Law Research Paper Series No. 11-002
10 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2011
Date Written: 2010
This essay is the foreword to a conference, "Laïcité in Comparative Perspective," which drew together scholars from Europe and the United States to compare the French model of church-state relations, laïcité, with models that exist in other countries. The essay makes three main points about laïcité. First, it argues that laïcité has multiple meanings that do not always overlap. For example, "legal" laïcité, the principles that derive from legal texts, must be distinguished from "philosophical" or "political" laïcité. Second, it demonstrates that conflicts about laïcité are particularly bitter in the context of public education. Both pro- and anti-religionists view public schools as crucial battlegrounds for shaping future citizens; for both sides, the stakes are very high. Finally, it suggests that the way to understand laïcité – and church-state relations in the United States – is to focus on the historical compromises that give abstract doctrine real-world meaning.
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