Laïcité as control

The French reforms of 2021 in historical perspective


  • Mariëtta D. C. van der Tol


laïcité, public order, religious associations, religious minorities


This article argues that the 2021 legal reforms on laïcité in France signify a new development in the legal concept of laïcité. The new provisions move away from an emphasis on laïcité as an organisational principle of the state, the separation between church and state, and neutrality. Instead, the 2021 law pre-emptively casts suspicion on religious minorities as potential threats to public order, Frenchness and the principles of the Republic, and it attaches to this suspicion an assertion of con- trol backed by the force of administrative and criminal law. This control is reminiscent of the Napoleonic motives for interfering with the Catholic Church as well as with Protestant and Jewish minorities.

Author Biography

Mariëtta D. C. van der Tol

Mariëtta D. C. van der Tol is Alfred Landecker Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford; and non-stipendiary Junior Research Fellow at New College, Ox- ford. This article builds on Section 4.1 of her 2020 University of Cambrige thesis, “Politics of religious diversity: toleration, religious freedom and the visibility of religion in public space.” Author wishes to express her gratitude for constructive comments by dr. Alexis Artaud-de la Ferrière. This article uses British English. Article received: 17 September 2021; accepted: 31 October 2021.



2022-03-03 — Updated on 2022-03-03