Laïcité: What Is It And Why Should We Know About It?

Religion — and religious accommodation in the workplace — is front and center these days – from the Supreme Court to national electoral politics.  We think that we know all about it.

Ever hear the term “laïcité?”

“France’s strict legal separation of religious and civic life — a legacy of the French Revolution known as laïcité — formally discourages, and in some situations expressly bans, public religious expression. It is a brand of secularism that coexists uneasily with Islamic traditions, making workplace negotiations about religious practice particularly difficult and prone to misunderstandings.”

So writes NICOLA CLARK in today’s New York Times in an important article entitled Faith and Its Consequences, about how France is wrestling with religion in the workplace, in light of the disquiet and disorder engendered by the turmoil of world events.

As one of her interviewees, a Muslim guard “whose beard cost him his job,” noted: “Today in France, laïcité only has one meaning, and it is anti-Islam.  It has become so widespread. And now, yes, it has infected the workplace.”

Girl, Happy, Female, Beautiful, Smiling

There is clearly a tension between religious freedom and workplace concerns, including safety.  And you thought only of Abercrombie & Fitch?  Or Hobby Lobby?

Clark writes that “Officially, France’s vigorous brand of secularism applies to all religious faiths. But over the last decade, regulations on laïcité (pronounced lie-EE-see-tay) have tended to focus on Islam. A law prohibiting government employees and high school students from wearing head scarves and other ‘conspicuous’ religious attire was introduced in 2004. A specific prohibition against women wearing full-face veils in public went into effect in 2011.”

So why should we care about this here?

Clark notes that “While France’s workplace rules around religion are relatively distinct, the broad concerns are playing out globally, as countries confront the rise in terrorist activities. In the United States, questions of workplace safety arose after a radicalized California health department employee killed 14 colleagues in an attack on an office party in San Bernardino, Calif., in December.”

This is an important article for all HR people and employment attorneys who, if they have not already, will surely in the near future have to deal with issues such as theseBetter start thinking about them now.





Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 115 other subscribers

Posted in

Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]