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France

  • June 2016 : Private schools and home schooling

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem reported on 9 June that the government intends to change the rules for opening private non-contractual educational institutions. For historical reasons, as education was long the privilege of the Church, the debate on freedom of education is closely linked in France to questions of religion. This debate was reignited in April by the bill to strengthen the supervision of public schools outside the contractual framework proposed by the Republican MP Eric Ciotti. There are three types of educational establishments in France : public schools, private institutions ‘under contract’, and those ‘outside contract’ (see School and religion in France). Public schools make up the majority of these institutions. More than 90% of private institutions have a contract with the State, through which they receive subsidies from the State or regional authorities, the State then being responsible for pedagogical supervision. In addition, although it is compulsory in France to educate children, it is not compulsory for this to be done in school ; under certain conditions, this education can be provided in the family. In recent years, the number of pupils in private non-contractual and home-based education has been on the rise.
Private non-contractual schools account for only 0.5% of all students. They are free to choose their teaching curriculum, but remain subject to State supervision, particularly with regard to health and safety issues. An inspection of several of these institutions in December 2015 had revealed abuses in some of them. Citing the fight against radicalisation, the Government wants to step up inspections on home schooling or non-contractual establishments, and secondly, to modify the rules for opening a public school. A draft decree submitted on 9 June to the Higher Council for Education, and changes to the Educational Code, aim in particular to make the creation of any new public school conditional on prior authorisation from the public authorities, whereas currently a declaration of intent suffices. This information has revived a debate that has been very lively in the past, between those who see these controls as an infringement on freedoms (e.g. here or here), and those who see education outside public schools as a threat to societal living.

See also Le Monde, L’observateur, La Croix.

  • 9 September 2013 : presentation of the Charter of Secularity in Schools

On 9 September 2013, the Minister of National Education, Vincent Peillon, presented the "Charter of Secularity in Schools" which was henceforth to be displayed conspicuously in all state educational institutions of primary and secondary level. Composed of 15 articles, the Charter recalls the fundamental principles of the French Republic and highlights secularity in schools. It mentions the secular nature of lessons – their being open to scientific questioning, the strict neutrality of the personnel, the ban on wearing religious symbols, students’ freedom of expression and the rejection of any discrimination. This Charter must be brought promptly to the attention of students and the educational community and attached, to the greatest extent possible, to the house rules of each school.

On this occasion, the minister wished that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789 and the motto of the Republic “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” be displayed inside schools and that the French Tricolour and the European flag be displayed on the façade of establishments in application of Article L.111-1-1 of the Education Code created by Act no. 2013-595 of 8 July 2013.

This law also added to the second paragraph of Article L.111-1 of the Education Code one sentence stating that “the public service of education enables all students to acquire respect for the equal dignity of human beings, freedom of conscience and secularity”.

For more information, see the Charter of Secularity in Schools (in French) on the website of the Ministry of National Education.

  • October 2004 : Wearing religious symbols in State schools

The law on wearing religious symbols in school (law of 15 March 2004) provoked reactions at the beginning of the new school year.
The Minister of Education, François Fillon, stated that to this day there have been "less than twenty-four cases" of problems related to the Islamic headscarf, cases, he says "that are being taken care of" (Le Monde, 05.10.04).

There have also been reactions from the Sikh community as it is against their religion to cut their hair and men must wear a turban. Three Sikh students from Seine-Saint-Denis challenged their expulsion from classes in court at the beginning of October. The court adjourned the decision (AFP agency story, 19 October 2004).

  • 18 May 2004 : Wearing religious symbols in State schools

The law of 15 March 2004 states that "in State schools or secondary schools students are not permitted to wear symbols or clothing that conspicuously show their religious affiliation".

A circular from 18 May 2004 outlines its mode of enforcement.

  • 28 January 2004 : Debate on Secularity and wearing religious symbols at school

The mission of parliamentary information on the issue of wearing religious symbols at school was pronounced on 12 November 2003 for a legislative measure expressly prohibiting "wearing visible signs of religious and political affiliation" inside State schools.
Furthermore, the discussion committee on the application of the principle of secularity in the French Republic, presided by Mr Bernard Stasi, presented its report to the President of the French Republic on 11 December 2003 and put forward several proposals aimed at reaffirming the principle of secularity, and especially the creation of a legislative measure prohibiting conspicuous religious symbols in schools and secondary schools.
A bill was brought to table on 28 January 2004.

Further Information :
Parliamentary works on the bill regarding the application of the principle of secularity in State schools and secondary schools
- The Stasi Commission’s report

D 30 juin 2016    AAnne-Laure Zwilling

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