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Anti-clericalism is a movement that opposes religious interference into public and political life and more generally the encroachment of religion in the citizens' lives. It suggests a more active and partisan role than mere laïcité.


Anti-clericalism is particularly discussed in the context of the French Third Republic and its dissensions with the Catholic Church. To summarize, prior to 1905, the Catholic Church enjoyed preferential treatment from the French State (along with the Jewish, Lutheran and Calvinist minority religions). During the 19th century, priests were employed as teachers in public schools, and religion was taught in schools. The Church also appeared to support royalist opinions, and was involved in anti-semitic attacks such as the Dreyfus Affair.

As a consequence, many people, especially in the political left, sought the separation of Church and State and the imposition of laïcité — that is, the separation of government and religion and the neutrality of government with respect to religious issues. Note that the division between "clericalists" and "anti-clericalists" does not exactly fit the boundaries of "believers" and "nonbelievers": on the one hand, some Christians felt the Church should not intervene in political life, on the other hand, some, like Charles Maurras, while they did not believe in God, supported the power of the Catholic Church, for they felt it was essential to national cohesion and their political goals (see also reactionary).

The 1905 Separation of Church and State was highly controversial.

Nowadays, the interferences of the Catholic Church into public life are fairly reduced and traditional anti-clericalism seems passé. It's still a somewhat popular topic in some left-wing circles, or for instance for the newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné.

Current anti-clericalism often focuses on the most "backwards" aspects of Islam, especially its consideration of women as inferior beings . One may see the French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools as a consequence of anti-clericalism.

See also

Last updated: 05-07-2005 07:32:57
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04