Last person executed for blasphemy honoured in France

Posted: Thu, 13th Apr 2023

Last person executed for blasphemy honoured in France

A statue of François-Jean de la Barre, the last person executed for blasphemy in France, has been symbolically erected in front of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, Paris.

François-Jean de la Barre, also known as the Chevalier de La Barre, was executed at the age of 19 in 1766 for failing to doff his hat in front of a religious procession.

He was tortured, beheaded and burnt with a copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary nailed to his torso.

The first statue of La Barre was erected in 1897 in front of the Sacré Coeur but was removed under pressure from Catholic Church. It was melted down by the Nazis to make cannons.

The unveiling ceremony for the new statue (pictured) was part of a two-day international conference on secularism in Paris organised by La Fédération nationale de la libre pensée.

National Secular Society president Keith Porteous Wood and chief executive Stephen Evans both spoke at the conference. Keith discussed recent campaigning to hold religious institutions to account for child abuse.

Stephen gave an overview of the situation in the United Kingdom, where the Church of England is established by law. Its bishops sit as of right in the legislature, the head of state is 'Defender of the faith', and worship is mandated in state schools.

The diverse arrangements of church and state in different countries were discussed by speakers from a range of countries, including France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United States.

Many speakers highlighted the unjust privileges stemming from concordats: agreements or treaties between the Vatican and a secular government.

Delegates committed to act in their respective countries to achieve the effective separation of religion and state, to promote freedom of conscience for all, and for the abolition of all concordats and blasphemy laws.

NSS chief executive: "A reminder of the importance of defending liberal principles and challenging religious privileges"

Speaking after the conference, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Both globally and at home institutionalised and fundamentalist religion remains a serious threat to freedom of belief, expression and choice.

"This conference served as a reminder of the importance of defending liberal principles and challenging religious privileges to ensure the flourishing of human rights for all.

"I thank Libre Pensée for putting together such a stimulating event and memorable commemoration of Chevalier de La Barre, which serves not only as a reflection on past horrors, but also a commitment to the future of free expression."

What the NSS stands for

The Secular Charter outlines 10 principles that guide us as we campaign for a secular democracy which safeguards all citizens' rights to freedom of and from religion.

Tags: Disestablishment, Free speech