FRANCE: The School War

"My aim is to organize humanity without a God and without a king," cried Premier Jules Ferry, and in 1880 the Third Republic began passing the laws out of which France's public schools were born. It was an old passion with anticlerical Frenchmen, who could not forget the clergy flocking to support King Louis XVIII (1814-24) and the Bourbon restoration. The government ordered a new curriculum that was stripped of all religious overtones.

Even when the old bitterness subsided after World War I, France's traditional anticlericalism—a strain that runs from Voltaire to Sartre—remained just below the surface. In 1945, when De...

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