French Laïcité, Freedom of Expression and Ordre public


The republication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo magazine has led to a defensive reaction from the French government. There is legislation going through Parliament in order to make the “secular” education system more stringent by the reinforcement of laïcité by a greater emphasis on indoctrination in the school curriculum. The pursuit by the French authorities under the guidance of President Macron to deregister Muslim charitable bodies and to suspend mosques has caused a minority to feel threatened. This has been followed up with the instruction to adopt “republican values” that may lead to disenfranchisement of the Muslim community by the state imposing secularism and monitoring their conduct which may increase suspicion. The question is if the enforcement of an interventionist state secularism is in accordance with the concepts of laïcité as it was originally developed and if the overbearing executive will undermine the ordre public. This paper argues that in superimposing the laïcité law the state is not in conformity with the original spirit of the doctrine and that freedom of expression to insult religion in satire should not be an absolute right because it could be a threat to the ordre public. The republican values can still be enshrined by reducing the tensions between the laïcité and ordre public and taking the approach of positive neutrality towards other religions.

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