State and religion

France's anti-separatism bill deemed constitutional with only minor changes

3 days after parliament approved the bill in July, a group of MPs from right and left called on the Constitutional Council to judge on its constitutionality
3 days after parliament approved the bill in July, a group of MPs from right and left called on the Constitutional Council to judge on its constitutionality © LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

French constitutional watchdogs have cleared the path for a new law aimed at countering Islamist extremism. 

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Officially known as the law comforting the principles of the republic, the draft law was approved in parliament  in July.

But around 100 MPs raised doubts over whether the law could come into force and called on the Constitutional Council to give its verdict.

On Friday, the council modified only two of its provisions as it gave the green light to the bill. The council's decision means the bill can become law.

Gérald Darmanin, the Interior Minister, who introduced the bill tweeted that it was excellent news for the Republic.

He added it would help President Emmanuel Macron’s administration to fight against those who want to undermine secularism

However, Malik Salemkour, the head of the League of human rights, denounced the move. "It is a bad decision that opens the door to arbitrariness and tensions with associations," he said.

Modifications

The Council censured just two measures.

One concerns residence permits for foreigners. Under Article 26, non-French citizens who manifested a rejection of the principles of the Republic could have had their residence permits withdrawn or refused.

The council deemed the notion of rejecting principles of the Republic was not precise enough to justify such a decision.

The other significant change concerns associations, some of which have been accused of fostering extremist ideology.

The proposed law gives the authorities the power to suspend associations if they are facing an emergency dissolution procedure.

As the procedure can take up to six months, the council deemed that “the legislator has infringed the freedom of association in a way that is not necessary, appropriate and proportionate”.

The much-contested tightening up of home schooling in France -- whereby families must obtain authorisation in advance rather than simply making a declaration - was not censured.

The council said, however, that the criteria for issuing authorisation must exclude any discrimination.

Controversial law

The bill was introduced following a series of Islamist-driven attacks, notably the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in October 2020.

It contains a range of measures on the neutrality of the civil service, the fight against online hatred and the protection of civil servants such as teachers.

The law introduces an offence for wilfully endangering the life of others through spreading information about a person's private life. It carries punishments of up to three years in jail and a €45,000 fine.

Another key measure is that associations will have to sign a republican commitment contract to qualify for state subsidies.

The conservative Republicans and left-wing parties (France Unbowed, Communists, Socialists) had opposed the bill: the former judging it dull and unambitious, while the latter claimed it infringed civil liberties and targeted Muslims.

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