Hard-Line Secularism Is a Bad Idea

Question: What lessons does France’s headscarf controversy hold \r\nfor the U.S.?
\r\nJoan Wallach Scott:  Well I mean I guess that hard-line \r\nsecularism is not a good idea, which is not to say that secularism is \r\nnot a good idea.  I mean I certainly think that the attempt in the \r\nUnited States to by groups here to rewrite American history as a sort of\r\n Christian story and to portray the founding fathers as Christian \r\nfathers is something that really needs to be challenged and in the name \r\nof secular… in the name of history, of accurate history as well as \r\neverything else, but I think the kind of hard-nose secularism of France,\r\n that kind of unbending insistence on that secular means one thing and \r\nthat violations of it will not be tolerated in any way is a bad idea and\r\n that if you’re accommodating different groups, different populations \r\nwhat you need to do is figure out ways of accommodating them.  The way \r\nthe French did when the passed the 1905 law separating church and state,\r\n the way they did with the Catholic Church.  There was a day off for \r\nreligious instruction for kids.  All the holidays in France still, some \r\nare state holidays, but most of them are Catholic, not even just \r\nChristian, Catholic holidays.  Parts of France are… Alsace and Lorraine,\r\n Alsace-Moselle, those departments which were under German control when \r\nthe 1905 law was passed and then came back to France after the war those\r\n areas were never forced to adopt the secular practices that the rest of\r\n the country adopted, so still in those areas you can have religious \r\nteaching in the schools.  Children have to take a course in religious \r\ninstruction and so on and so forth, so they’re not even consistent…  \r\nIt’s not even a nationally consistent policy in relation to Catholicism,\r\n which was the dominate religion at the time the law was passed, so to \r\nact as if it is either secularism or nothing or that the secular and the\r\n religious are in eternal opposition to each other is to misrepresent \r\nFrench history and to create a situation in which there will only be a \r\ngreater sense of felt discrimination and anger on the part of the \r\npopulations whom these laws affect.  So it seems to me that that kind of\r\n hard line secularism, which is as fundamentalist in its way as the most\r\n extreme Islamist fundamentalism defeats its own purpose and really \r\ndoesn’t end up producing a situation in which there can be a certain \r\nkind of pluralism, cultural pluralism and political assimilation and \r\npolitical citizenship.

Recorded April 26th, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by Austin Allen

What the U.S. can learn from French battles over mosque and state.

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