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France to maintain a headscarf ban despite legal advice


France to maintain a headscarf ban despite legal advice

France decided on Monday to maintain a ban on Muslim headscarves for volunteer school monitors despite a warning that it overstepped the law requiring religious neutrality in the public service.

The Council of State, which advises the government on disputed administrative issues, said in a 32-page analysis that this neutrality did not apply to mothers who help escort schoolchildren on outings such as museum visits. Education Minister Vincent Peillon promptly announced the ban would continue because the Council’s opinion also said that schools could impose internal rules against religious wear. “The memo (establishing the ban) remains valid,” he said in a communique after the Council’s analysis was released.

France imposed the ban last year as one of several steps in recent years to tighten its policy of strict secularism. It banned headscarves for pupils in state schools 10 years ago and outlawed full-face Muslim veils in public in 2011. It has also considered extending this religious neutrality, which has long been the rule in public service, to some businesses such as private child daycare centres.

Muslim groups have denounced the increasingly strict limits on religious wear as discrimination against them. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is the largest in Europe. France’s official secularism policy, the product of a long struggle against the powerful Roman Catholic Church that ended with the separation of church and state in 1905, remains a political minefield for governments and their critics.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault came under pressure from the conservative opposition and some fellow Socialists last week when a report posted on his website said France should reverse this policy and recognise its “Arab-Oriental dimension”. He denied that the report, part of a study on ways to fight discrimination, would become official policy.

France’s top administrative court will have to rule early next year on the appeal of a woman fired from her job at a private daycare centre because she began wearing the Muslim headscarf despite an internal dress code banning it.

The Council of State is the second advisory body to warn the government recently against overstepping the limits of the secularism policy. An “Observatory of Secularism” appointed by President Francois Hollande advised in October against a new law to extend the religious neutrality requirement to some private businesses, despite support for the idea from within his Socialist Party.

Reuters, 23 December 2013


The Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France have organised an online petition calling on education minister Vincent Peillon to withdraw the ban on Muslim mothers wearing hijab from participating in school trips.

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  • George Carty

    I thought that laïcité essentially meant that religion should be confined to the private sphere.

  • Amie

    Hi George,

    I do not think it is the physical appearance of hijabi ladies. Rather, I think that french/western values are such that they promote women to be less covered. Less covered means one looks at the woman’s hair, face, cleavage, curves, etc. Hijab forces men to look the women in the eye. And that is the difference. Also, in western culture hijab is viewed as a sign of oppression. Equality between the sexes is meant 100%, meaning: women should be able to dress, work, look like men. A covered woman does not look like a man.

  • George Carty

    In the 1960s, British racists accused black men of wanting to “steal their women”. Do you think some French people feel threatened by the feminine beauty of hijab-clad girls, in fact doubly so because they fear that men may convert to Islam out of attraction to hijabis?

    This danger doesn’t really exist with those who wear niqab or burqa as the overwhelming majority of non-Muslims find face-veiling repulsive and therefore it would be more likely to make them recoil from Islam rather than embrace it.

  • Amie

    First the burqa now the hijab. I knew this would happen. Ordinary people really do not care what a person wears. Only politicians would make a big fuss out of it.

  • Lynchpin

    True. Seems a bit hypocritical when they embrace the Laicism ideology and then going against it. I can’t see why they’d want to alienate so many of their voters either – nearly 10% of French people follow Islam – I can only think that a lot of French non-Muslims are in favour of this, despite the fact that other religions’ symbols are not allowed to be worn either.

  • The greenmantle

    Not in practice
    Sir David

  • Lynchpin

    I thought that the French traditionally advocated Laicism – doesn’t that mean an absence of government intervention in religious affairs?

  • Seeker

    “They” being the government of course. I’m guessing most French people are genuinely nice people simply trying to make a living.

  • Tanveer Khan

    I must read up on this 😉

  • Rights

    Well, you know, I wonder if those French who don’t much care about Muslims think such people can be beautiful. But I get what you’re saying.

  • The greenmantle

    School vouchers are just a tax brake for the rich dont be fooled
    Sir David

  • George Carty

    Maybe they’re afraid that some non-Muslim young men will find hijabis beautiful, to the extent that they convert to Islam in order to marry one?

  • George Carty

    That’s why I’m highly sceptical of the school vouchers policy supported by some Americans — private schools would never admit poor children for fear of being boycotted out of business by their paying customers. Private education is a Veblen good, whose value lies in its exclusivity.

  • Rights

    It is not the scarf they are after; it is Islam and the Muslims. Banning the scarf is just a cowardly, back door way of trying to get at Islam and its followers. How strange it is that people who unremittingly claim pride in human rights and civil liberties do not find banning religious rights in contravention of the same pride.

  • Nassir H.

    I agree that it’s unfair to attribute the law to secularism. Obviously it was motivated more by rightwing populism, though its defenders would say otherwise.

    Using an ideology (or religion) to superficially justify an unjust action? Sounds familiar.

  • Guess

    I saw the mini series awhile back, very interesting. The majority of french Muslims have Algerian background, yet France while accusing others of “genocide” have yet to come to terms with its own Algerian genocide during its colonialist era.

  • Tanveer Khan

    Has anyone seen the “Muslims in France” thing on Al Jazeera? I saw a bit of it. It was quite interesting.

  • mindy1

    What is it about the scarf that so scares people?!

  • Heinz Catsup

    Banning the hijab and religious wear in general only causes problems. How come the government can’t understand that?

  • junkie diplomat

    the french and their fake ideals of “liberty” and “equality” disgust me, no wonder they’re hated the world over

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Who cares about the overstepping the law when you can get votes.

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