France – "Promoting secularism and preventing violence means educating to respect"

29 October 2020

(ANS - Paris) - The atrocious murder of Professor Samuel Paty shook France and raised the question of secularism in the national debate once again. Today Fr Jean-Marie Petitclerc, a French Salesian priest and director of the “Don Bosco Action Social” network (DBAS), addresses the theme.

At a time when our country is experiencing dramatic events - and how not to think first of all of the immense pain of the family and colleagues of this History professor who was cowardly murdered on his way home - the question of secularity is back on everyone's lips. But I believe there are two conceptions of secularity. The first, which is inspired by the law of 1905 and is sanctioned by the Constitution of our Republic, establishes that the State is the guarantor of freedom of expression and religious practice, which certainly finds its limit in the disturbance of public order. Secularity is what makes brotherhood possible, with all respected in their beliefs, be they believers or non-believers. It is a secularity understood as social harmony.

But there is also a second conception of secularity: secularism. It appeared in the late nineteenth century, at a time when the Catholic Church exercised real power over minds. We recognize that this is no longer the case today. It is a laicity, not of harmony, but of struggle. The proponents of this second line would like to eradicate, so to speak, the religious factor. It is no longer a question, therefore, of the institutions of the Republic which guarantee the freedom of each person to express his or her own convictions of faith, but to prohibit within them any form of belonging to a religious trend. And, paradoxical as it may seem, laicity then established itself as a sort of anti-religious ideology, far from the conception of the law of 1905.

Educating to true laicity means educating to respect for every person, whatever their religious or atheistic convictions. Of course, respecting the person does not mean having to tolerate all the acts he performs. One can be respectful of the person, while being intolerant of acts of delinquency or violence. In exercising my profession as a teacher and specialized educator, I believe I have always known how to respect the young people I accompanied, even when I harshly reproached them for acts that I considered unacceptable.

In the spirit of Don Bosco, the prevention of violence passes through education towards respect. If I want to teach young people to respect others, I must first of all respect them. If in our secular Republic we want to demand that all Muslims respect those who do not share their religious convictions - and indeed the vast majority of them do - we must first respect their convictions, even if they are not ours, and stop trying at all costs to profane what is sacred to them.

The purpose of laicity is harmony and not division, fraternity and not fracture. Promoting laicity, preventing violence, means educating to respect.


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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