• 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
Calais migrants
Eurotunnel migrant activity down overnight
Photo: Philippe Huguen/ AFP

Eurotunnel migrant activity down overnight

French police said on Saturday some 300 migrants in Calais attempted to reach Britain via the cross-Channel tunnel overnight, a significant drop from previous nights as the security presence is beefed up. READ  

Reunion wreckage
Possible MH370 plane part arrives in France
The plane part arriving in Paris on Saturday morning. Photo: Richard Bouhet / AFP

Possible MH370 plane part arrives in France

A piece of Boeing 777 wreckage that washed up on an Indian Ocean island arrived for analysis in France early Saturday, after Malaysian authorities said the part was almost certainly recovered from missing flight MH370. READ  

Calais Migrants
Migrant: 'France will protect me more than UK'
Migrants building a home in the New Jungle in Calais. Photo: AFP

Migrant: 'France will protect me more than UK'

While the intense media coverage of Calais might suggest that all migrants there want to make it to the UK, an increasing number of them are now actually choosing to stay in France. READ  

Reunion wreckage
Experts confirm Réunion debris is Boeing 777
People comb the beaches of Réunion looking for more plane wreckage. Photo: AFP

Experts confirm Réunion debris is Boeing 777

Malaysian authorities confirmed on Friday that plane wreckage washed up on France's island of Réunion was from a Boeing 777, meaning the part is almost certainly from missing flight MH370. READ  

France names capital cities for new regions
Here is the full list of the new proposed capitals. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

France names capital cities for new regions

French officials have revealed their suggestions for the capital cities of the country's newest regions. But not everyone is happy about the choices. READ  

French roads set for 'Black Saturday' jams
Authorities are recommending people to delay their journeys until Sunday. Photo: Philippe Desmazes/ AFP

French roads set for 'Black Saturday' jams

Planning to head out to the countryside this weekend? Beware, the roads will be hit by millions of French motorists taking off for their August break. READ  

Striking French seamen block Calais port
Striking employees of the My Ferry Link company block the access to the port of Calais. Photo: AFP

Striking French seamen block Calais port

Hundreds of French sailors blocked the city of Calais Friday, using burning tyres to prevent access to the port in the midst of the peak holiday travel period. READ  

French court says 'non' to new cockfighting pits
France hopes to be able to stamp out cockfighting altogether eventually. Photo: Jean-Michel Andre/ AFP

French court says 'non' to new cockfighting pits

France's top court on Friday upheld a ban on new cockfighting pits, as the country seeks to stamp out the ancient bloodsport that continues in some regions despite being banned in most parts of the world. READ  

Riviera trade group: 'Leave Saudis alone'
The beach is located just below the Saudi king’s Riviera villa in Vallauris. Photo: Valery Hache/ AFP

Riviera trade group: 'Leave Saudis alone'

After weeks of uproar over a decision to let the Saudi royals “privatise” a public beach on the French Riviera, a trade group has pleaded for locals to calm down and leave the Middle Eastern visitors alone. READ  

France and Russia 'reach deal' on ditched Mistrals
Photo: Frank Perry /AFP

France and Russia 'reach deal' on ditched Mistrals

After eight months of negotiations France and Russia have reached a deal on the amount Paris must pay Moscow in compensation for the non-delivery of two Mistral warships, a senior Russian official said Friday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Réunion's plane debris to be probed in France
Ten things you didn't know about Gay Paris
France eyes boost to holiday leave rights
Business & Money
French dating sites 'not protecting client privacy'
Features
Learn more about the Bayonne festival - France's wildest party
Features
What's on in France: Ten things to do in August
Features
What to see and do at the Paris Plages this summer
Saudi royals 'bar' French policewomen from beach
Take a closer look at the 560,000-year-old tooth found in France
National
Swiss army pilfers French water to give to thirsty cows
National
'B**ch' and 'brainless': French shop slurs clients
Travel
French cops rebel over order to give kids sweets
National
New measures to stop migrant deaths in Calais
Travel
Here are some of the most ridiculous comments you'll read about France
Features
Life may be about to get easier for expats settling in France
National
Burning tyres and blocking roads is just the way the French do strikes
National
Muslim tourists visiting French Alps are reminded of burqa ban
Opinion
Slim and chic: Are French women fed up of the stereotypes?
French officials defend handing public beach over to Saudi royals
Society
French kiss: Should expats in France do 'la bise' among themselves?
National
Paris commuters and tourists face summer of travel trouble
This man learnt the entire French vocabulary in nine weeks, but why?
French speed cameras snare tens of thousands of British drivers
Gallery
What kind of expat in France are you: A lover or a loather?
Society
French tweeters reveal the trials and tribulations of #GrowingupFrench
Where to find the best (and worst) quality of life in France
National
Riviera rumpus as Saudi royals grab public beach all for themselves
What we know about France's foiled terror plot
Features
Here are ten places in Paris where you can escape the summer heat
National
Coup d'état fails in France after being snubbed by military
Are shoppers in northern France the most honest in the world?
French woman fined €90 for driving in flip-flops
Cyclists in Paris get the green light to jump red
'Adieu France': Angry mum's parting rant goes viral
Franco-German rift opens over Greece and it could take time to heal
The Megavalanche: The most spectacular cycling event in France
Ex-French PM's daughter creates a buzz by going topless for photo shoot
Could Parisians be bathing in the Seine by 2024?
Paris unveils new mobile app to help non-French speakers
France declares war on public transport sex pests
So where's the best place to live in France if you want to be happy?
Opinion
Paris: The City of Light, Romance, Style and the worst loos in Europe?
National
Eight ways living in France will change your lifestyle for good
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

3,621
jobs available