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French minister questions pro-hijab campaign by parent group

French Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer delivers a speech during the 70th Congress of the Federation of parents of pupils (FCPE - Federation des Conseils de Parents d'Eleves) in Biarritz on June 3, 2017
French Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer delivers a speech during the 70th Congress of the Federation of parents of pupils (FCPE - Federation des Conseils de Parents d'Eleves) in Biarritz on June 3, 2017 IROZ GAIZKA / AFP
2 min

France's education minister has expressed concern over a campaign poster by a parents' association showing a mother wearing a Muslim headscarf while accompanying her child on a school trip. Jean-Michel Blanquer called the campaign an "error" and questioned the association's purported secular roots.

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In the poster campaign, a woman in a hijab sits next to her daughter, as they prepare to go on what appears to be a school trip.

Accompanying them in bold yellow letters are the words: "Yes, I'm going on a school trip, and so what?" It is followed by a statement in smaller print: "Secularism is about welcoming all parents to school, without exception."

The flyer, released by the Congress of the Federation of parents of pupils, or FCPE (Federation des Conseils de Parents d'Eleves), has sparked controversy.

On social media, Twitter users were scathing in their criticism of the parents' association reputed for being left wing.

Questioned about the controversy, education minister Blanquer responded that he found the campaign "regrettable."

"From a legal point of view, there is nothing wrong with a mother wearing a veil. But it's not something we want to encourage," he told BFM TV.

Long-running saga

The treatment of Islamic headwear has been a long-running political issue in France, with the first ban on religious symbols in schools enacted in 2004.

For proponents of the country's strict secularism law, mothers who wear headscarves during field trips, threaten the religious neutrality of schools.

"This association was set up on a secular basis, so this campaign is extremely ironic," Blanquer added.

The campaign comes ahead of local school elections. The co-founder of the parents' association, Rodrigo Arenas, has accused critics of playing politics.

"The minister has created a precedent: he has waded into an election involving pupils' parents," he told AFP.

Arenas also added that he was filing a complaint against an extreme-right wing group called a "Republican Spring" for whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment online.

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