France Escalates Its Push Against Religious Clothing Amid Rising Islamophobia

The French government is planning to extend laws restricting religious expression in universities.
By @KtLentsch |
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    France is waging war on religious freedom, and the next target is banning students from wearing traditional sacred clothing in universities. Based on research findings from the High Council of Integration (HIC) report, the French government is currently planning to implement an extension of existing laws passed in 2004 restricting religious freedoms.

    Symbols such as Muslim headscarves, Christian crucifixes and Jewish Kippah skullcaps and headscarves for women are among those being banned to ease religious tensions and create religious neutrality between students, the report states.

    But limiting the free expression of religion has caused upset within diverse French communities. Although most of the population in France is Roman Catholic, there are an estimated 5 million people who are Muslim and 600,000 people who are Jewish.

    The announcement for the ban follows two nights of riots that occurred last month in the Paris suburb of Trappes, after a veiled women was identity-checked by police, which resulted in 10 arrests, including the woman’s husband, multiple injuries and 20 torched vehicles.

    Riot police fired tear gas on hundreds of outraged French citizens who surrounded the police station and threw rocks in revolt of a 2010 law passed by president Sarkozy banning full-face niqabs and full-body burqas in public commonly worn by Muslim women in France, especially in the large immigrant population of Trappes.

    In response to the riots, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls defended the ban, stating it “is a law in the interests of women and against those values having nothing to do with our traditions and values.”

    In 2004, a law banning school children from wearing religious symbols was enacted in France, which the HIC report claims has been successful in reducing problems stemming from religious differences. Until now, universities have been part of a “gray area” for which no border was precisely defined to make consistent the principle of secularism and its application in the field.

    The report lists 12 recommendations to ease the tensions in universities. The authors of the report, led by Alain Seksig, France’s Inspector General of National Education, states some universities experienced tensions from students requesting to be excused from attendance for religious reasons and for separation of the sexes in lectures and seminars, as well as instances of proselytizing, disagreements over the curriculum, and the donning of religious clothes and symbols.

    Part of the premise of the report refers to secularism and concurs that educational institutions are part of a collective space which should not be subject to special interests and that it is unlawful to create a place of worship within them.

    The Collective Against Islamophobia reports that on average at least one individual is a victim of Islamophobia in France every day, and in 2012 an institution was the target of degradation almost every week.

    Of the Muslim population in France, not all women cover their faces. A hijab, a head wrap also commonly worn by women to protect their modesty, does not cover the face and was not outlawed by Sarkozy. Since the enactment, only a handful have been ordered to pay a fine for wearing a niqab or burqa, but Amnesty International condemned the law as violating freedom of expression for women, not just Muslim, but Orthodox Jewish and Christian women too, who also practice wearing a head wrap.

    In 2012, Amnesty International identified 101 countries who repressed their people’s right to freedom of expression of any kind and has advocated against other regions, such as Catalonia and Belgium, who have sought to ban the religious veils, affecting Muslim, Jewish and Christian women alike.

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