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France eases hijab ban on school trips

French Education Minister Vincent Peillon
French Education Minister Vincent Peillon Reuters/Charles Platiau

French mothers can wear Islamic headscarves when they accompany their children on school trips, France’s Council of State ruled on Monday. The country’s highest administrative court decided that France’s religious neutrality laws do not apply to parents but left room for discretion by headteachers. 

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A directive published in March 2012 by then education minister Luc Chatel extended a ban on wearing religious symbols in schools to parents on school trips from wearing religious symbols.

The move, like the law it was based on, was directed particularly at Muslim women wearing hijab.

The directive was only ever partially enforced, depending on the school, which is what prompted France’s ombudsman, Dominique Baudis, to ask the Council of State to clarify the situation.

The question was whether those who volunteer in schools or for other public bodies subject to the same rules of religious neutrality as employees.

The Council said that legally the answer is no.

Mothers can wear their headscarves when accompanying children on school trips.

But it added that the relevant authority – in this case, the school’s principle – could request that parents not to display overt religious signs if it is determined it would be disruptive to the outing.

Current Education Minister Vincent Peillon says that this decision justifies his commitment to not overturning the original directive.

He insists that French schools must preserve religious neutrality.

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