'moral order' regime of Marshal MacMahon, which to the republican mind offered evidence that attempts to rechistianise French society went hand in hand with the goal of trying to effect a monarchist restoration. By 1879, when republicans finally emerged in undisputed control of their own creation, the Third Republic, they were ready to reopen a legislative culture war to bring the church to heel.
The French culture war, 1879-1905
For moderate republicans such as Jules Ferry who were now the masters of the French state, the key to implementation of the idée laïque was education. A law of 1879, aimed primarily at the Jesuits, banned unauthorised religious orders from teaching in secondary schools. Legislation in 1881 and 1882 made primary education free, compulsory and non-denominational for both sexes. Religious instruction now had to be provided outside ofthe classroom forthose children whose parents wanted it and its place in the curriculum was taken by new classes on 'moral and civic education'. A further law of 1886 provided for the progressive laicisation of the teaching profession itself: around half of the nuns and brothers who taught in the nation's primary schools were removed by the early 1890s.
The education of girls was a particular target of the republicans, who were convinced that women's greater allegiance to organised religion was both a source of division in families and a barrier to the spread of the republican ideal. Accordingly, legislation of 1879-80 established teacher training colleges for women teachers and a network of state secondary schools for girls. Other measures designed to take forward the secularising agenda included the divorce law of 1884, which ended the ban on divorce imposed by the restored Bourbons in 1816, and a conscription law which obliged seminary students to do their military service like everyone else.
The legislative culture war unleashed in 1879, however, stopped well short of a full-scale assault on religion. Ferry and his fellow opportunist republicans retained a profound respect for the rights of the individual conscience and were also wary of offending the religious sensibilities of voters. Notwithstanding the availability of free state schooling, around 20 per cent of parents preferred to send their children to Catholic primary schools. A higher percentage -nearer 50 per cent - continued to opt for private (mainly Catholic) secondary schools, as much for social as for religious reasons (the Jesuits had a particularly good track record in preparing their pupils for the elite grandes écoles which were the passport to success in both the public and private sectors). Only
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