Combes, Émile (āmēlˈ kôNb) [key], 1835–1921, French statesman. An able politician of the left democratic group, he was minister of education under Léon Bourgeois (1895–96) and, succeeding René Waldeck-Rousseau, was (1902–5) premier and minister of interior and religion. Anticlericalism, growing out of the Dreyfus Affair, was rampant, and Combes rigorously enforced the law of 1901 requiring religious associations to seek government authorization. He abolished religious education and initiated the separation of church and state in France; abrogation of the Concordat of 1801 was formalized in 1905 in a law introduced by Aristide Briand. Combes was a member of the Briand cabinet in World War I.
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