French schools to display Secular Charter with rules on religion
A new “Charter of Secularism” is to be posted in state schools to remind pupils, parents and teachers that although in France everyone is free to practise any religion or none, within the country’s state-run schools, there are strict limits to religious expression.
Education minister Vincent Peillon unveiled the new charter on a visit to a school near Paris on Monday.
The charter outlines in 15 points the main principles of the 1905 law in France which enshrined the formal separation of state and religion.
Polls show that most people in France still cherish this longstanding law on secularity, which was originally introduced to curtail the influence of the Catholic Church.
However it is coming under increasing pressure in schools, with some pupils refusing to study reproduction, evolution theory, or the holocaust – giving motives connected to their religions.
The new charter declares clearly that pupils cannot opt out of such lessons or contest the school’s right to teach them.
The charter also re iterates that no teacher or pupil may wear conspicuous clothes or religious symbols. Teachers and pupils must therefore remove any Jewish kippas, Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans etc. at the school gates, in line with a 2004 law.
Elsewhere the text underlines equality between the genders.
Socialist education minister Vincent Peillon sent a covering letter to French school heads asking that the Charter be displayed in a prominent place on school premises.
However, Dalil Boubakeur, the president of the French Council of Muslims today spoke out against the charter.
“90 per cent of muslims will feel targeted by this charter although in 99 per cent of cases they pose no problem with regard to secularism in schools,” he said.
“Why include a reminder of the 2004 law on conspicuous religious symbols at school? There is also this reminder of equality between the sexes… you know what I mean…M. Peillon swore to me that there was absolutely no question of pointing the finger at the muslim community but hell is paved with good intentions.”
Many have expressed satisfaction with the charter, and teachers and parents groups say they hope it will prove useful.
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