Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité … et Laïcité so says the sign to the immediate left of the main entrance of the local primary school. Everyone entering is continously reminded of the country’s famous, national, three-part motto.
What of the fourth, less well-known term? Laïcité is often defined in English as secularity or secularism. Wikipedia suggests it dates from 1842 and has been used, from the end of the 19th century on, to mean the freedom of public institutions, especially primary schools, from the influence of the Catholic Church.
However, given the decline of Catholicism and the rise of other religions, it’s probably more appropriate to think of it as signifying “the absence of religious involvement in government affairs, as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs”.
But what a thing to remind everyone of as they go to school every day. No religion here please, we’re French! I wouldn’t have thought it equally as important as Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood, would you?