• France's news in English
 

France unveils 'secular charter' for all schools

Published: 09 Sep 2013 11:04 GMT+02:00

Education Minister Vincent Peillon says his new secular charter, which was revealed on Monday after 10am, is designed to promote "absolute respect for freedom of conscience". 

The document is to appear in a prominent place in every school, in the form of a poster and is remind teachers and pupils of a list of secular, Republican principles.

The charter, which contains 15 articles, was officially unveiled in a special ceremony at a Lycée in Ferté-sous-Jouarre in the Seine et Marne department, near Paris.

The document itself contains a number of broad, philosophical principles, that have already provoked a backlash.

Article 9 states: "Secularism implies the rejection of all violence and all discrimination, guarantees equality between girls and boys, and rests on a culture of respect and understanding of the other."

While the charter allows for pupils' free expression, article number 11 states that "Staff have a duty of strict neutrality. They must not show their political or religious convictions in the exercise of their duties."

Article 11 emphasises the famous French Enlightenment values of scientific inquiry, and appears to prevent any possible disputes over evolution or sex education. "Lessons are secular...No subject is a priori excluded from scientific and pedagogic questioning. No student can invoke their political or religious convictions, in order to dispute a teacher's right to address a question on the syllabus."

In practice that means teaching staff must never give any indication of their religious (or political) convictions during lessons and that pupils cannot use their faith as a reason to challenge the content of the national
curriculum, the manner of teaching or the rules of the school.

Of course, the charter affirms France's 2004 law, which banned the wearing of all "ostentatious religious symbols," and Article 13 appears to emphasise the point, perhaps as regards activities like sports and athletics.

"Nobody can avail of their religious affiliation in order to refuse to obey rules applicable in our schools."

charte_laicite

Speaking to the Journal du Dimanche  newspaper on Sunday, Peillon said: "The first article of our constitution states that the Republic is indivisible, democratic, social and secular."

“The school must teach these values, explain their meanings and their history. Because if we do not teach them, we should not be surprised if they were misunderstood or even ignored,” he said.

Previously Peillon said: “Everyone has a right to their opinions. But not to dispute lessons or miss classes [for religious reasons],” he added.

'Attack on Islam'

The minister has dismissed criticism from some quarters that the charter is just a veiled attack on Islam.

Abdallah Zekri, for example, president of the Observatory on Islamophobia told Le Parisien he felt "targeted" by the charter.

"This charter was supposedly made to combat communitarianism...But honestly, I feel targeted because now when anyone talks about 'communitarianism,' they're really talking about Muslims," he said.

Peillon, however, has said: “The vast majority of our Muslim compatriots are convinced of the benefits of secularism."

The project has provoked a mixed reaction in France, with some questioning the application of secular principles, and others claiming the measure doesn’t go far enough in enforcing France’s particularly strict church-state separation.

“The reality is that in the last few years, the Left has singularly lacked courage in the difficult struggle to defend secularism,” said Michèle Tabarot, a centre-right opposition UMP deputy.

“This decision is totally in keeping with the pussyfooting image of this government.”

Peillon’s predecessor as education minister, however, Luc Chatel from the opposition UMP party, expressed his tentative support for the charter.

“Any time we can give children a point of reference as to what the Republic is, and what our values are, that’s a good thing,” he told France Info radio on Monday.

Other critics wonder whether the model is suitable for modern-day, multicultural France and accuse the government of double standards.

They question whether a truly secular school system would allow Christmas trees or December visits by Santa Claus, and whether it would still observe holidays on Christian Saints days.

While the vast majority of school canteens dish up fish every Friday - in keeping with Roman Catholic tradition - any principal who provides halal meat for Muslim students risks incurring the wrath of militant secularists, whose cause is enthusiastically backed by the far-right, anti-immigration Front National.

Interpreting the rules correctly has proved a headache for school leaders.

Earlier this year a Muslim girl was excluded from her school after a headband and long skirt were deemed to constitute overtly religious garb. The exclusion was overturned on appeal and her parents are now suing the school for racial discrimination.

The legislation has also caused much anguish among France's 30,000 Sikhs, whose male children are required by their faith to cover their hair from an early age.

In practice, many primary schools have continued to allow younger Sikh boys to wear the Rumal, a handkerchief-type covering, but turbans are banned - a situation that effectively results in many Sikh teenagers giving up school earlier than they otherwise would.

Don't miss stories like this - join The Local France on Facebook and Twitter

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Nine French dead after fighter jet crashes
Smoke rises from the Spanish air base after the crash. Photo: AFP

Nine French dead after fighter jet crashes

UPDATED: The death of a ninth French national was confirmed late on Tuesday morning, as the the death toll rises to eleven after a Greek fighter jet crashed at a military base in Spain on Monday. READ  

BREAKING
At least five held in 'anti-jihadist' raid in France
This file photo shows French police carrying out an counter-terrorist raid on a property. Photo: AFP

At least five held in 'anti-jihadist' raid in France

UPDATED: At least five people have been arrested after an anti-jihadist operation in southern France, which is still ongoing. READ  

Anti-Semitic acts double in France
Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and Police Chief of Jerusalem Moshe Edry at the kosher supermarket in Paris where four died in a terror attack this month. Photo: AFP

Anti-Semitic acts double in France

There were twice as many anti-Semitic incidents recorded in France in 2014 compared to the year before, the country's main Jewish group announced on Tuesday. READ  

Paris Terror Attacks
French police to get more guns and vests
French police officers guard a mosque shortly after the Paris terror attacks took place. Photo: AFP

French police to get more guns and vests

The French government has announced that it will send out an additional 4,000 handguns and 8,000 bulletproof vests to aid the national police force as the dust settles after the Paris terror attacks. READ  

The view from France
'Syriza victory is good news for French people'
Alexis Tsipras raises his arm as he celebrates being named Greece's new PM. Photo: AFP

'Syriza victory is good news for French people'

A French Communist Party senator tells The Local the result of the Greek election can be a wake-up call for the people of France. READ  

Road Safety in France
France bans hands-free kits to cut road deaths
A dummy goes flying at a crash test course for students in Le Mans, north-western France. Photo: AFP

France bans hands-free kits to cut road deaths

UPDATED: France's interior minister announced a raft of measures on Monday aimed at improving road safety, with a heavy focus on preventing alcohol-related accidents as well the use of mobiles at the wheel. READ  

Isis urges new attacks after Paris shootings
France has bolstered security across the country since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Photo: AFP

Isis urges new attacks after Paris shootings

The Islamic State jihadist group Isis urged Muslims on Monday to carry out new attacks similar to the Paris shooting at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where 17 people were killed. READ  

French hardline Catholics buy up gay bar
A gay bar in Toulon has been bought by a Catholic group. Photo: Guillaume Paumier

French hardline Catholics buy up gay bar

A hardline French Catholic group has bought the gay bar next to its local church, hoping to turn it into a religious meeting place. But the head of the city's gay community tells The Local that the church will need "a whole bunch of exorcists" to turn it around. READ  

The French baby names the law wouldn't allow
Not everyone was "Happy" about some of these French baby names. Photo: Loren Javier/Flickr

The French baby names the law wouldn't allow

As parents in France have been told that they can't name their kids "Nutella" or "Strawberry" (fraise), The Local takes a look at some other baby names that have fallen foul of the law over the years. READ  

French far right's Le Pen senior hurt in house fire
Jean-Marie Le Pen, pictured here with his daughter Marine, was injured at a house fire near Paris on Monday. Photo: AFP

French far right's Le Pen senior hurt in house fire

The founder and honorary president of France's National Front party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was slightly injured on Monday in an accidental fire at his house outside Paris. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
France bars parents from naming baby 'Nutella'
National
France has no entrepreneurs!? What about fart pills for windy lovers?
Society
Nutella to Happy: The wacky French baby names banned by law
Culture
Men's Fashion Week in Paris in pictures - from penises to androgyny
Health
Could France be the next country to ban sunbeds?
Gallery
Ten French words you will never hear in France
National
Wrap up warm: Big freeze to hit northern France at the weekend
National
Muslims in France - 'They say we're not French'
National
Paris wants New York-inspired 'citizen cards'
Gallery
An architect has shown how he thinks Paris should look in 2050
Culture
Where are the real "no-go zones" in Paris? We've listed 10.
Society
Cheese diet helps oldest Frenchman live to 110
National
Charlie Hebdo chief stands firm over cartoons as global protests spread
National
'It feels like I'm in a warzone': Paris tourist
National
Are there really 'no-go zones' in Paris?
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
National
A futuristic vision of Paris revealed... and other news
National
What now for France post-terror attacks?
National
France to beef up its surveillance powers
National
Charlie Hebdo sells out within hours in France
Politics
Paris attacks: Knock-on effects in Sweden and across Europe
National
France moves to crack down on terror speech in aftermath of attacks
National
French Muslims react to Charlie Hebdo's Muhammad cover
National
'I only had a few seconds to hide from the Kouachis'
National
After three days of terror France feels like a nation
National
IN PICTURES: France's biggest street demos in recent history
National
And in other news in France ...
National
A defiant France rises up on solidarity like never before
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Paris marches for unity after terror attacks
National
OPINION: 'As bloody as it's been, France is not at war'
National
'It's a true nightmare': Parisians react to terror attacks
National
French to march in unity to help heal their wounded nation
National
Profile: the most wanted woman in France
National
Twitter disgust over 'I am Kouachi' hashtag
National
The incredible stories of how some survived the Paris gunmen
National
Al Qaeda threatens a shaken France with more terror
Gallery
The Paris terror attacks from start to end in 27 photographs
National
Global leaders to stand side by side with France
National
French Muslim leaders slam 'odious' attacks
National
Charlie Hebdo gunmen killed as twin siege ends
Gallery
10 of the most powerful cartoons after the Charlie Hebdo attacks
National
Disunited: French far-right 'barred' from national unity rally in Paris
National
Muslim targets attacked after magazine killings
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

454
jobs available