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France: Should religion be allowed in nurseries?

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France: Should religion be allowed in nurseries?
The Baby Loup nursery in Paris where a woman was fired for wearing a headscarf. Photo: AFP
11:29 CEST+02:00
French MPs on Wednesday will put the spotlight on religion in France's nurseries, seven years after a woman was fired from a Paris crèche for refusing to remove her veil.
Lawmakers will on Wednesday be discussing a draft law proposed by the Radical Left Party, which was prompted by one particular case that has been dragged from court to court for years.
 
Fatima Afif, a nursery assistant, was sacked in 2008 by the "Baby Loup" creche for refusing to remove her Muslim headscarf at work. 
 
Critics called the move religious discrimination while others argued that it was perfectly in line with France's strict secularity laws that were made to protect children who were deemed too young to make up their own minds about religion.
 
Since 2004, these laws have stated that the wearing of religious symbols or clothing in France's public (state-run) schools is illegal.
 
The issue, however, is that Afif was sacked from a privately-owned nursery.  
 
In June last year, France's top court appeared to have put the matter to rest when it ruled that the nursery was right to fire the woman.
 
However, the buzz around the case never died down, and has prompted discussions about France's legal interpretations of secularism and the laws guaranteeing personal freedom of expression. 
 
The new proposals aim to clarify that any nurseries receiving public funds should be free from signs of religious expression, and that private nurseries watching over children aged six and under should be given the means to oblige staff to abide by restrictions on religious expression.
 
The move has left some displeased, including bishop Olivier Ribadeau Dumas of the Bishops' Conference of France. 
 
He said that broadening neutrality in religious matters to the private sphere was "not in the spirit of the Law of 1905," referring to the French law that officially separates Church from State but allows religious expression.
 
France's strict secularity laws have often proved to be a touchy topic, and all the more since Islamist terrorists killed 17 people in Paris in January.
 
As recently as last month, France faced another outcry against its secularity laws after it emerged that a 15-year-old Muslim schoolgirl was twice banned from class for wearing a long black skirt seen as too openly religious.
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