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September 2023: Controversy about the wearing of abayas in schools
On 27 August, French Education Minister Gabriel Attal announced on the TF1 television news programme that the abaya would be (...)

  • September 2023: Controversy about the wearing of abayas in schools

On 27 August, French Education Minister Gabriel Attal announced on the TF1 television news programme that the abaya would be banned from state schools. The abaya is a long, loose-fitting dress, a cultural garment from the Arabian Peninsula.

There has been recurrent controversy in recent months over the wearing of the abaya in secondary schools by girls. A few days before the start of the 2023 academic year, the French Education Minister took a stand and indicated that he would ban the wearing of this garment from the start of the new academic year. While this announcement has reignited controversy and debate on the issue, it has also raised questions among legal experts.

The debate about the way pupils dress stems from the principle that state schools must be places of religious neutrality, in accordance with the principle of laïcité (secularism). Although this religious neutrality initially only concerned public service employees, the law of 15 March 2004 extends this neutrality to users of the national education public service, that is pupils. The law of 15 March 2004 prohibits the wearing of signs or clothing by which pupils would ostensibly manifest a religious affiliation in state schools. While signs that are objectively religious are prohibited - the headscarf, the kippah, the large cross - other signs have raised questions for judges in recent years. This applies to the wearing of a bandana or a long skirt, for example. To determine the extent to which this type of sign does or does not fall within the scope of the 2004 law, the Conseil d’Etat has ruled that the wearing of such signs is an ostensible manifestation of religious affiliation only because of the pupil’s behaviour - the assessment is therefore made on a case-by-case basis.

The Minister’s memo, published in the Bulletin officiel de l’Education nationale on 31 August, brings the abaya within the scope of the law of 15 March 2004. His predecessor, Pap Ndiaye, had already published a circular in 2022 aimed at clarifying the legal framework applicable to abayas, among other things. For some legal experts, this announcement is nothing more and nothing less than an exercise in political communication.

In France, there are frequent debates about the place of religion in the public sphere - particularly when it comes to the religious symbols worn by Muslim women: the veil, the burkini, the full veil and now the abaya. This latest controversy raises many questions. On the one hand, on the basis of what information is the government declaring that the abaya is a religious garment, despite the contrary opinion of the CFCM? Although this garment does meet the requirements of religious modesty, it is above all cultural; the government therefore seems to be adopting the definition of the abaya held by some members of a certain current of Islam, and some members of a certain current of secularism. Moreover, this controversy once again raises questions about the definition of laïcité: is it a liberal legal principle, or will religious neutrality end up definitively replacing secularism, the legal safeguard of religious freedom?

Lauren Bakir
  • April 2023: Council of Wise People for Secularism

In 2018, the Minister of National Education installed a Council of Wise People of Secularism "in the face of the attacks on the principle of secularism that have been shaking the school institution for too long".
On 14 April, this council will welcome five new members (Gwénaële Calvès - professor of public law at the University of Cergy-Pontoise; Christine Darnault - deputy director of the cabinet of the Rector of Créteil, in charge of educational policies;
Jacques Fredj - Director of the Shoah Memorial; Thomas Hochmann, professor of public law at the University of Paris-Nanterre; Alain Policar, political scientist and sociologist at the IEP of Paris.
The other members of the Council of Wise Poeple are Dominique Schnapper (chair), Jean-Louis Auduc, Ghaleb Bencheikh, Catherine Biaggi, IAGGI, Abdennour Bidar, Médéric Chapitaux, Monique Dagnaud, Olivier Galland, Delphine Girard, Patrick Kessel, Catherine Kintzler, Frédérique de la Morena, Jean-Eric Schoettl, Vincent Ploquin (Ministry of the Interior), plus an administrative team comprising Alain Seksig, Iannis Roder, Isabelle de Mecquenem, Michèle Narvaez.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 11 September 2023    ALauren Bakir


September 2022: End-of-life
The issue of the end of life has been regularly addressed in France for the past two decades: with Law No. 99-477 of 9 June 1999 aimed at guaranteeing the right to (...)

  • September 2022: End-of-life

The issue of the end of life has been regularly addressed in France for the past two decades: with Law No. 99-477 of 9 June 1999 aimed at guaranteeing the right to access to palliative care, and then Law No. 2016-87 of 2 February 2016 creating new rights for patients and people at the end of life (known as the Claeys-Leonetti Law).
It has gained importance in France over the last few years, first with the Falorni Report on the end-of-life and the proposed law giving the right to a free and chosen end of life, in April 2021.
Recently, the publication of a book denouncing the poor living conditions of elderly residents in private clinics and Ehpads (accommodation establishments for dependent elderly people) managed by the Orpea group has re-launched the debate (Victor Castanet, Les fossoyeurs, Fayard, 2022).
The National Consultative Ethics Committee for Life Sciences and Health, founded in 1983, recently published an opinion on Ethical issues relating to end-of-life situations.
Among other things, the committee said that "active assistance in dying" could be applied in France, but "under certain strict conditions". President Emmanuel Macron has announced a consultation with a view to a possible law by the end of 2023.
Several European countries have already legislated on end-of-life issues.

Further information:
 Press release of the Comité consultatif national d’éthique pour les sciences de la vie et la santé
 Comité consultatif national d’éthique pour les sciences de la vie et la santé, Avis 139 sur les questions éthiques relatives aux situations de fin de vie: autonomie et solidarité
 Olivier Falorni, Rapport fait au nom de la Commission des affaires sociales sur la proposition de loi donnant le droit à une fin de vie libre et choisie, April 2021
 Réforme, "Fin de vie en France, 20 ans de débat et de lois", September 2022

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • April 2022: Anti-religious Acts

The Report to the Prime Minister on anti-religious acts in France Rapport au Premier ministre sur les actes antireligieux en France (Isabelle Florennes, Ludovic Mendès) has just been published (March 2022).
See an article by Anne Lancien on this subject (December 2021).

  • February 2022: Sexual abuse and the Roman Catholic Church - continued

Eight members of the Académie catholique (Catholic Academy) published a report in November 2021 criticising the report of the Commission indépendante sur les abus sexuels dans l’Église (Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, CIASE) of October 2021. Founded in 2008 by French Catholic intellectuals, the Académie catholique de France aims to foster the meeting of academics attached to Catholicism and to promote their ideas.
The newspaper La Croix reports that several members of the Academy, including Mgr Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference, and Sister Véronique Margron, president of the Conférence des religieux et religieuses de France (Conference of Monks and Nuns of France), have announced their resignation following the publication of the disputed report by Le Figaro. Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of CIASE and himself a member of the Catholic Academy, expressed his "sadness" at the criticism.
In February 2022, Jean-Marc Sauvé published a detailed response to the criticisms of the Catholic Academy, including a response from the members of the commission, the conclusions of five recognised specialists in surveys and polls and a note from demographer François Héran, which confirm the relevance of the report’s findings and the recommendations made by CIASE.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to be troubled by the difficult issue of sexual abuse.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 15 September 2022    AAnne-Laure Zwilling


December 2021: Conversion therapy
In 2019, the television channel Arte broadcast an investigation entitled "Homotherapies, conversion forcée" (Homotherapies, forced conversions), directed by (...)

  • December 2021: Conversion therapy

In 2019, the television channel Arte broadcast an investigation entitled "Homotherapies, conversion forcée" (Homotherapies, forced conversions), directed by Bernard Nicolas. Practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, most often in religious groups and called sexual reorientation therapies or conversion therapies, have thus become the focus of public attention.
In July 2019, a flash mission on practices claiming to modify sexual orientation and gender identity had been created, with Laurence Vanceunebrock-Mialon (MP of La République en Marche, centre party, for Allier) and Bastien Lachaud (MP of La France insoumise, extreme left party, for Seine-Saint-Denis) as co-rapporteurs. The mission published a communication and a synthesis in December 2019.

In March 2021, Laurence Vanceunebrock tabled a bill in the National Assembly prohibiting practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. For her part, the Socialist Senator Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie tabled a bill in the Senate in June 2021.
The Vanceunebrock bill passed its first reading in the National Assembly on 5 October and was adopted by the Senate after intense debate. The Senate voted the proposal on Tuesday 7 December, with 305 votes in favour and 28 against. Automatic line return
The adopted law creates an offence punishable by two years imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 euros for "repeated practices, behaviour or statements aimed at modifying or repressing the sexual orientation or gender identity, real or assumed, of a person and having the effect of altering his or her physical or mental health".

A joint committee responsible for proposing a text on the provisions of the bill still under discussion was convened on 8 December 2021.
The Minister for Citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, then announced that she was entrusting Miviludes with a mission on these "conversion therapies", to "explain, exemplify and quantify the phenomenon, analysing in particular its sectarian dimension", according to a press release, and will have to formulate "operational proposals within a month to perfect the means of combating these practices". Miviludes, the body responsible for combating sectarian aberrations attached to the Ministry of the Interior, will be assisted by the assistance and intervention cell for sectarian aberrations (CAIMADES), attached to the Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Persons (ORCVP), and by the Central Office for the Fight against Environmental and Public Health Violations (OCLAESP).

A round table on conversion therapies took place in November 2021 at the EHESS; the video recording of the debates is online.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • October 2021: Report on sexual violence and abuse in the Catholic Church

Revelations of rape, abuse, sexual violence and paedophilia in the Catholic Church have put the institution in a difficult situation for many years. The French Bishops’ Conference has already produced several reports on the fight against paedophilia in the Church.
In February 2019, the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) and the Conference of Religious of France (CORREF) had mandated a commission, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE).
Composed of 22 people with diverse philosophical and religious opinions (believers of different confessions, non-believers, agnostics or atheists), not including religious, and chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, honorary vice-president of the Council of State, the commission made its report public on 5 October.
The commission estimates that 216,000 minors have been sexually abused by clerics or religious since 1950, and 330,000 if one includes those assaulted by laypeople working in Church institutions (teachers, supervisors, youth movement leaders...). These figures are the result of a statistical estimate with a margin of plus or minus 50,000 people.
The Commission first took 6,500 calls from victims or relatives, and then conducted about 250 long hearings or research interviews. It also analysed the archives, in an attempt to discover the institutional and cultural mechanisms that may have fostered paedocriminality.
The Commission’s report ends with some forty recommendations.
This report has provoked a great deal of reaction: by revealing the extent of the problem, but also by revealing that the Church has frequently refused to take into account the cases of which it has been made aware, this report seems quite damning for the ecclesial institution.

For more information:
 ICASE Final Report, Les violences sexuelles dans l’Eglise catholique, France 1950-2020 (Sexual Violence in the Catholic Church, France 1950-2020) (in French, will be available in English by the end of the year)
 Summary of the report
 Collection of testimonies from victims, De victimes à témoins (From victims to witnesses)
 Interview with Jean-Marc Sauvé, Etudes, October 2021

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • August 2021: Principles of the Republic and religions

The Law n° 2021-1109 reinforcing the respect of the principles of the Republic (Loi confortant le respect des principes de la République) was promulgated on 24 August 2021.

  • April 2021: End of life

A proposed law giving the right to a free and chosen end of life was debated on Thursday 8 April in the French National Assembly. Led by MP Olivier Falorni of the Radical Left Party, it would allow in certain cases "any capable person of age" to request "medical assistance" to die, "through active help".
Currently, physician-assisted suicide is illegal in France. The Leonetti-Claeys law on patients’ rights and the end of life prohibits "unreasonable obstruction" and "artificial prolongation of life" by the medical profession. Passed in 2016, this law allows deep and continuous sedation until the patient’s death.
The parliamentary debates could not succeed : some MPs are opposed to this law. Some conservative MPs tabled nearly 3000 amendments, while the time allowed to complete the debate was only one day.
Health Minister Olivier Véran considers that a better application of the Claeys-Leonetti law would be preferable to a new law. Several ministers also believe that in the midst of a health crisis, the time is not right for this debate.
The parliamentary debates could not be concluded: only the first article could be discussed. The bill should be put back on the agenda of the National Assembly, but it is not sure that there will be an opportunity before the end of the legislature. However, the majority of MPs support this bill, which is also supported by a large part of public opinion (as the Vincent Lambert case had shown), while the text has been opposed by the Roman Catholic Church.

See also:
 Law n° 2016-87 of 2 February 2016 creating new rights for patients and people at the end of life (Loi n° 2016-87 du 2 février 2016 créant de nouveaux droits en faveur des malades et des personnes en fin de vie), also named Leonetti-Claeys Law
 Survey The French view of end of life (Le regard des Français sur la fin de vie), IFOP for Association pour le Droit de Mourir dans la Dignité, April 2021
 Survey The French and the end of life (Les Français et la fin de vie), IFOP for "Soulager mais pas tuer", March 2021
 The Roman Catholic Church and the end of life

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • April 2021: The headscarf again

The 14 April 2021, the Court of Cassation confirmed (in the case of an employee dismissed for wearing a headscarf covering her hair, ears and neck) that an employer may only restrict the individual freedoms of their employees (in this case the freedom of religion) if this restriction is justified by the nature of the task to be performed and meets a professional requirement that is essential, decisive and proportionate to the aim sought.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • April 2021: Law consolidating the principles of the Republic

The Senate’s examination of the draft law reinforcing the respect of the principles of the Republic has started on 30 March
This draft law had been announced in 2020 by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron.
During the first passage of the law through the National Assembly in February 2021, Jews, Christians and Muslims had expressed their concern about the text.
Before the debate in the Senate, Christians again expressed their fears in a statement published on 10 March. The Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders of France had considered that this text went against the separation of the Churches and the State operated by the 1905 law and "risked undermining the fundamental freedoms of worship and association".
Many religious groups are organised under the general regime of association (known as the 1901 law). The bill encourages them to register under the 1905 regime, which is more transparent in accounting and financial terms, in exchange for tax or financial benefits. However, this change in organisation is accompanied by obligations (such as the certification of accounts) and controls, which raise concerns about religious freedom.
In response, the Minister of the Interior assured that the text "in no way threatened the freedom of religions" (see Le Monde), and that the 1905 law had already undergone numerous modifications without its principles being called into question.
On 25 March, the Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme (National Consultative Commission on Human Rights) issued a second opinion on the bill. It reiterated that the text should be revised. In particular, it is opposed to the introduction of a double declaration system for associations and religious unions and would also like to see the obligation of neutrality extended only to persons in direct contact with public service users. It also makes recommendations on the conditions for implementing religious practice.
The Senate’s examination of the bill, which was adopted on first reading by the deputies in February, began on 30 March. More than 600 amendments were tabled.
On the same day, the Conference of Religious Leaders in France (created in 2010 and bringing together six leaders responsible for Buddhism, Christian churches - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant -, Islam and Judaism) published a tribune on secularism.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • March 2021: Local law in Alsace and Moselle

An article in Rue89 provides the state of the question of local law in Alsace and Moselle, in which the legal status of religions is specific see Organising the faiths : local systems. This point emerged during the debate in the National Assembly that preceded the vote on the bill against religious separatism.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • February 2021: Charter of Principles for Islam in France

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) officially adopted in February the "Charter of Principles for Islam in France". It was made official during a meeting with the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. Containing ten articles, the document regularly refers to Koranic suras, and proclaims equality between men and women, the pre-eminence of the laws of the Republic over religious convictions, the rejection of foreign state control, the condemnation of antisemitic acts, homophobia and misogyny, recognises freedom of conscience and the freedom to change religion.

Five of the nine federations that make up the CFCM have signed the charter. However, CFCM officials say all federations will sign it.

Further information: Sauvaget, Bernadette, “Islam : la charte du CFCM, une victoire politique pour l’Elysée”, Libération, 18 January 2021

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • February 2021: Religious separatism and Republican principes

The willingness shown by the Head of State to fight against "religious separatism" has been concretised in a draft law confirming the respect of the principles of the Republic". The bill was sent on 17 November to the presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate. In December, a series of hearings were held in the National Assembly in the framework of the special committee charged with examining the bill. The draft was then examined by the Council of Ministers on 9 December, and finally in Parliament in January 2021.

On this occasion, the deputies discussed the religious neutrality of the elected representatives. Two amendments (proposed by the radical left-wing party La France insoumise and the majority party La République en marche) brought this debate. The aim was to extend the principle of neutrality, which prohibits public service employees from manifesting their religious affiliation during the exercise of their duties, to elected representatives, and in particular to prohibit them from attending a religious ceremony. Currently, elected officials are not subject to religious neutrality. A tacit rule, supported by case law, provides that an elected official participating in a religious ceremony as a representative of a public administration (and not as an elected official) must abstain from any personal mark of adherence to the religion. But nothing is precisely written in the law and the vagueness persists. Following these debates, the amendments were finally rejected.

Nevertheless, the representatives of religious denominations do not hide their concern about this project, which they consider to have a negative impact on all religions that is disproportionate to its possible interest in combating radical Islamism. Many feel that it casts an unjustified suspicion on the whole religious and associative world. The spirit of the text is that of a special treatment of religions in a security perspective, which makes secularism evolve, from a regulation of the organisation of religions with respect for the freedom of all under the supervision of a neutral State to a model of diffusion of republican values defined by the State.

See also: - Discourse of the President Emmanuel Macron
 Cécile Chambraud, "Mosquées, imams… Les propositions de Macron pour un islam ’libéré des influences étrangères’" », Le Monde, 2 October 2020
 Alexandre Lemarié, Olivier Faye, “Emmanuel Macron présente son plan contre le séparatisme islamique, Le Monde, 2 October 2020
 FranceTv info

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • January 2021: Training of imams

The year 2020 has been dominated by the head of state’s announced intention to fight "religious separatism", which Emmanuel Macron finally presented publicly in October 2020. Although Islam in itself is neither exclusively nor explicitly targeted, many aspects of the law may concern Islam, namely: the neutrality of the public service is reinforced; and subsidies to associations will be subject to conditions; there will be limitation of home schooling and reinforcement of secular public schools; also measures on inheritance (ensuring gender equality), polygamy and forced marriage; adjustments concerning the exercise of worship.

As concerns Islam, the measures envisioned by Emmanuel Macron have 3 aims: to free Islam in France from foreign influences, to stabilise the governance of mosques, and to train in France imams who promote “an Islam that is fully compatible with the values of the Republic”. This mainly concerns the system of seconded imams from three countries with which the French State has signed agreements (150 Turks, 120 Algerians and 30 Moroccans, out of some 2,500 mosques) working in France and being paid by their country of origin.

In this perspective, the CFCM issued in November a document entitled Training France’s religious leaders and combating radicalisation: A priority for French Islam (Former les cadres religieux de France et lutter contre la radicalisation : Une priorité de l’islam de France). The president Emmanuel Macron received the presidents of the CFCM component federations at the Elysée Palace to review the progress of the project of creation of the National Council of Imams (Conseil national des imams, CNI). The CNI is setting up a procedure for approving imams at national level according to their religious knowledge, pedagogical skills and human qualities. However, the idea of a council of imams to regulate access to the function raises questions. Each mosque is free to recruit whoever it wishes as an imam. There is no possibility to determine who could give the CFCM a monopoly on the certification of imams, and no guarantee that mosques would feel concerned by this label. The French public authorities cannot really get involved in this strictly religious question without infringing the law of separation of church and state.

 Cécile Chambraud, "Mosquées, imams… Les propositions de Macron pour un islam ‘libéré des influences étrangères’", Le Monde, 3 October 2020;
 Alexandre Lemarié, Olivier Faye, "Emmanuel Macron présente son plan contre le séparatisme islamique", Le Monde, 2 October 2020.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 16 December 2021    AAnne-Laure Zwilling


December 2020: The Roman Catholic Church in France weakened by confinement
The health crisis of 2020 caused the total or partial closure of places of worship for several months. This has had a (...)

  • December 2020: The Roman Catholic Church in France weakened by confinement

The health crisis of 2020 caused the total or partial closure of places of worship for several months. This has had a significant impact on the Roman Catholic Church in France, which announced that in 2020 it has suffered a "real financial shock", recording a 30 to 40% drop in its resources. The "denier du culte", the financial participation of the faithful collected during religious services, constitutes an important part of the resources of this Church.

See the press release of the Conférence des évêques de France (French Bishops’ Conference), and an article in Le Monde.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • December 2020: An agreement between the Orthodox communities

Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in France, and president of the Assemblée des évêques orthodoxes de France - Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France) and Jean de Doubna (head of the archbishopric of Western European parishes of Russian tradition of the Moscow Patriarchate) signed, on Friday 4 December, a memorandum of understanding to pacify the relations of the French Orthodox communities.
For the past two years, a conflict has been aggravating relations between the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow. In November 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople had revoked the patriarchal charter (Tomos) dating from 1999, which canonically linked the Archbishopric of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe (ecclesial structure of the Diocesan Directing Union of Russian Orthodox Associations in Western Europe) to the Church of Constantinople. The parishes members of this Directing Union, born of the emigration of White Russians to France in the 1920s, found themselves, as a result of this revocation, directly linked to the metropolises of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and without an autonomous structure. This led to disagreements, with about a third of these parishes remaining attached to Constantinople, the other two thirds being attached to Moscow.

Nicolas Kazarian, Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • December 2020: The Catholic Church, Religious Freedom and the Pandemic (continued)

On 16 November 2020, the representatives of the religious denominations met with Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin to study possible changes in the modalities of religious practice in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, on 24 November, when President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron detailed the measures for easing the second containment that France has been undergoing since 29 October, he announced that attendance at religious services would be limited to 30 people. The leaders of the different religious groups expressed their surprise and their regret that they had not been given a better hearing, judging this limit to be unreasonable and inapplicable.
Because of the importance they attach to participation in mass, the Catholics in particular have strongly advocated for this. Launched during the first weekend of confinement, the petition had collected more than 100 000 signatures in one week. The demand came from the most traditionalist circles, and was finally supported by the French Bishops’ Conference, which on 27 November filed a reference to the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), along with several other associations.
In its decision of 29 November 2020, the President of the Court ordered the government to modify this limit of 30 people within three days, by adapting it, for example, to the surface area of the establishments or to their capacity, so that it is strictly proportionate to the health risk. The Conseil d’État found that "the particular nature of religious ceremonies is not sufficient to justify the 30-person limit imposed on all religious establishments, regardless of their size", that this limit was disproportionate to the objective of preserving public health and that the government had seriously and manifestly unlawfully infringed the fundamental freedom of worship.
He called for consultation with the representatives of the principal religions.
On 2 December, in a press release, the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Darmanin, stated that in the context of the discussions with the representatives of the various religions, "a new presence gauge in the religious buildings has been established". Religious ceremonies are authorised on condition that two seats are left free between each person or family, as well as having only every second row occupied.
Discussions are to continue, in order to prepare the evolution of the containment measures expected by 15 December.

See Decree N 2020-1505 of 2 December 2020 modifying decrees n° 2020-1262 of 16 October 2020 and n° 2020-1310 of 29 October 2020 prescribing the general measures necessary to deal with the covid-19 epidemic in the context of a state of health emergency

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2020: Laïcité, freedom of expression and freedom of religion

Debates on an issue that frequently arouses passions in France, religions and secularism, were again very lively in November. They are also complex and very intertwined, since they are intertwined with other debated elements of French social and political life, and because passions around personal convictions are strong. In addition, the confinement and restrictions due to the health crisis make the social climate particularly difficult.
The debate started with the issue of freedom of expression, at the very moment when the trial of the perpetrators of the attack on the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo newspaper in 2015 is being held. It was amplified by several tragic events.
The first of these events was an attack on 25 September by a young Pakistani man who stabbed two people standing near the former premises of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
This attack was followed on 16 October by the assassination of Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher at the college in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Parisian greater suburb). A few days after a class on freedom of expression, during which the teacher allegedly showed the students various cartoons, including some about the Prophet Muhammad, Samuel Paty was killed and then beheaded on his way home from school by an individual who claimed to be acting in the name of the Prophet of Islam.
Very quickly, the public discussion soon turned into a debate between, to express it in a very simplified manner, supporters of freedom of expression whatever the circumstances and proponents of respect for religious beliefs.
Thus, the president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, stirred up controversy by calling for the use of cartoons of Mohammed in education to be "controlled". He will go back on his words a few days later, regretting what he called a clumsiness. Some Catholic bishops (e.g. Nicolas Brouwet, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes) made a similar speech, as did the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations of the United Nations, Spain’s Miguel Angel Moratinos, who called in a communiqué for "mutual respect of all religions and beliefs".
Generally speaking, the French position has been rather badly perceived abroad (see for instance Bulgaria), particularly in the United States, whose press has been strongly criticized in France for the way in which it has presented the situation. The New York Times shocked strongly when it entitled its article "French police shoot and kill a man after a murderous knife attack" (the title has since been changed); but Americans often find it difficult to understand the French situation.
President Macron, who defended the right to caricature at the national tribute to Samuel Paty on 26 October, has also sparked criticism and calls for boycott in many Muslim-majority countries. The President then went on to explain his position, defending freedom of expression, saying he understood that the cartoons might be offensive but reiterated that can never justify violence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, called for stopping these demonstrations, which come from a "radical minority".
Emmanuel Macron seems to reflect French people’s opinion on the right to caricature religious figures, which has evolved in recent years: 59% of French people believe that newspapers had " reason " to publish this type of caricatures " in the name of freedom of expression ", whereas only 38% were of this opinion in February 2006 (IFOP survey Les Français sont-ils encore Charlie ?).
On 29 October, a few days after the murder of Samuel Paty, a knife attack in a Nice basilica left three people dead.
These events triggered strong actions by the French state, measures that are part of what President Emmanuel Macron calls the fight against separatism which he outlined on 2 October in a speech on separatism and secularism.
As a result, more than fifty associative structures accused of links with Salafism or the Muslim Brotherhood, including the CCIF (Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France, an association aiming to combat Islamophobic acts), and the NGO Baraka City, have been dissolved, as well as about fifty associative structures. The mosque of Pantin, accused by the authorities of having relayed remarks that led to the assassination of Samuel Paty, has been closed for 6 months.
One element of Samuel Paty’s assassination is therefore taking a back seat, while raising equally important questions: the role of social networks. It was in fact following a denunciation that went viral on social networks, an accusation that proved to be false, that the teacher became a target.
The Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, submitted on Wednesday 18 November to the Council of State a new proposal aimed at more quickly repressing the dissemination of hate messages in the public space, particularly through social networks. Some see this proposal as yet another restriction of freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression and freedom of religion, the debates raised by these freedoms are not nearing their end.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2020: The Catholic Church, Religious Freedom and the Pandemic

Since 29 October, France has been experiencing a second period of containment, due to the resumption of the Covid-19 epidemic. Religious groups have once again been called upon to cease face-to-face religious gatherings. However, members of the Roman Catholic Church (laity, associations and bishops) are invoking freedom of worship to demand the resumption of masses. Demonstrations have taken place, with the faithful organising prayers in the streets in a number of cities in France. Numerous recours en référé have been filed. Most of them are from the traditionalist current of the Roman Catholic Church (the association Civitas, close to the fundamentalists of the Parisian church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, the Fraternité de Saint-Pierre, a traditionalist religious organisation), but there are also several bishops.
Already, at the end of the first confinement, the traditionalists had lodged an appeal before the Conseil d’Etat, refusing to wait to resume their activities, which the government demanded. They had won their case, and on 18 May the Council of State had asked the government to lift the ban on religious celebrations.
In November, however, the interim relief judge of the Council of State did not suspend the provisions of the decree of 29 October 2020 which temporarily restrict, within the framework of confinement, the possibility of gathering in places of worship.
The demonstrations continued, but only concern the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that regular attendance at mass is an important requirement of this religion, and that the first confinement seems to have caused this Church to lose many of its regular followers, although it is not yet clear whether they will resume their regular practice when the epidemic is over. However, we note that the Catholic episcopate is acting in this case without the support of the other religions, obviously expecting special treatment from the public authorities.
Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin met on 16 November with the religious leaders, as requested by the Council of State; they explained that the sanitary conditions did not allow the resumption of public celebrations. A controlled resumption will have to take place from 1 December, depending on the sanitary conditions. The French Bishops’ Conference calls for this decision to be respected and for patience.
It is not certain that this call by the bishops will be followed by all the faithful, and other demonstrations are still taking place at the weekend, despite the Interior Minister’s warning that he would not hesitate to "send the police to issue fines", in the event of "repeated acts", to the people who would demonstrate for the reopening of masses.
These "street prayers" are incomprehensible to many people. First, some of them criticised the demonstrators for taking too lightly the health rules restricting gatherings. But the question of the legality of these public religious events in a secular France is often raised, especially after the tensions of 2017 when many elected officials had opposed prayers in the streets by Muslims who demanded the opening of a mosque.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2020: Bishops of the French Catholic church against paedophilia

The Conference of Bishops of France is publishing its third report on its actions to combat and prevent paedophilia in the Church in France, based on data provided by the dioceses. The first two were published in January 2017 and October 2018.
In 2016, the Bishops’ Conference had opened a site dedicated to the fight against paedophilia in the Catholic Church, a major scandal for years (see Eurel current debates 2016 and 2019).

Download the report

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • October 2020: Law prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by parents accompanying school outings

The senate adopted on 29 October a proposed law aimed at prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols, including the veil, by parents accompanying school outings. It had been was tabled in July, before the controversies of this autumn, by the Gaullist and liberal-conservative political party The Republicans (Les Républicains). For the Val-d’Oise senator Jacqueline Eustache-Brinio (bearer of the report to the senate on radicalism), who initiated this text, the aim is to fill a "legal void" in order to avoid leaving it up to school heads to decide. The Senate adopted the bill in first reading with 163 votes for, 114 votes against, 40 abstentions.

 “Le Sénat vote l’interdiction des signes religieux pour les accompagnateurs de sorties scolaires", Le Monde, 29 octobre 2019;
 "Sorties scolaires : le Sénat vote pour l’interdiction du port du voile pour les mères accompagnatrices", Public Sénat.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • May 2020: Religion and the Covid 19 epidemic

An article by Jacqueline Lalouette takes stock of religions in France at the time of Covid 19 (Jean Jaurès Foundation).

On 18 May 2020, the President of the court of the Council of State ordered the Government to lift the general and absolute ban on assembly in places of religion and to enact in its place measures strictly proportionate to the health risks and appropriate at this beginning of "deconfinement".

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • March 2020: Facing the coronavirus epidemic

In the face of the coronavirus epidemic currently affecting most European countries, many religious groups have provided guidance on following the containment guidelines during this health crisis.

Catholicism: the Conférence des évêques de France has decreed that no Mass should be celebrated with an assembly. Funerals may be celebrated with a congregation of less than 20 people, who should be spread throughout the church; finally, confessions should be made in places that allow a distance of one meter and not be face to face.
Islam: The Conseil français du culte musulman has called on all mosques to "suspend the organization of Friday prayers" starting next week and "until further notice". Chems-eddine Hafiz, rector, announced the closure of the Grand Mosque of Paris. The CFCM invites the faithful to do their ablutions at home, before going to the mosque. The ritual cleansing of the deceased is also suspended.
Protestantism: most Protestant churches have announced the closure of places of worship: the Eglise protestante unie de France asks to limit activities as much as possible, the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace-Lorraine cancels all worship services, the Baptist and Adventist churches have asked to close.
Judaism: the Consistoire central israélite has announced the closure of the synagogues.
Orthodoxy: Orthodox religious services have also been suspended. (See the communiqué from Métropole de France calling for the closure of the churches.)

According to a YouGov poll published by, 93% of respondents approve of the containment measure, which is considered necessary to combat the pandemic.

This year, the religious feasts of the monotheisms will all take place in April (Pesah from the 8th to the 16th; Easter around the 12th of April for Catholics and Protestants and for Orthodox on the 19th; Ramadan around the 24th of April). On 23 March, the President of the Republic brought together by audio conference the leaders of the main religious denominations (Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Orthodox) as well as lay and Freemasonry associations, and announced that these future religious holidays would have to take place "without gathering".
The president also said that there was no question of cremation becoming widespread for those who died of Covid-19. However, the question of funeral spaces will have to be taken into account, knowing that several Muslim squares are reaching saturation point.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • February 2020, the "Mila Affair"

At the beginning of the year 2020, an incident occurred on social networks, sparking a short but intense national debate.
It started with the words of a teenage girl, Mila, against Islam and Muslims. The girl, who poses as a lesbian, rejects the advances of another teenager in an exchange on her Instagram account. He then insults her in a racist and homophobic manner. As the threats have taken a religious turn, Mila publishes a message affirming her rejection of all religions. This prompted a wave of messages from Internet users furious at this "insult to religion". Mila then posted a video online in which, in very crude terms, she affirmed her rejection and contempt for Islam.
As a result, the teenager received a barrage of insults and threats, including death threats, from thousands of users of Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Her personal details, name, address and phone number, were made public. Her high school officials said that it would be better, under these conditions and for her safety, if Mila did not attend her school in the following days. Mila will later have to find another high school to attend.

Abdallah Zekri, the delegate general of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), made a statement on Sud Radio that provoked strong disapproval, saying "He who sows the wind reaps the storm". Shortly afterwards, CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui eased tensions by tweeting that "nothing can justify death threats against a person, no matter how serious the remarks made. It is the justice system that must pronounce the sanctions provided for by law if there is provocation and incitement to hatred." He will add in a press release : "We must accept that Islam be criticized even in its principles and foundations. [...] Freedom of expression is fundamental. It is a source of enrichment and progress through the dissemination of ideas and opinions that it allows. It is the foundation of our democracy and the bulwark against all forms of alienation."
Several political figures expressed themselves on this subject. Justice minister Nicole Belloubet attempted to support Mila, saying death threats are unacceptable in a democracy, but had the awkwardness to say that, "insulting religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience". This is contrary to French law, as lawyer Richard Malka will point out: "the basis of freedom of conscience is not to prohibit criticism or even insult but to protect freedom of expression".

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron will in turn reaffirm the right to blasphemy and to criticize religions (see for example Le Monde).

The affair has been widely covered by the media. Numerous Internet users have also expressed their views on the issue, some condemning Mila’s comments with the keyword #JeNeSuisPasMila (I am not Mila), others declaring their support for him with #JeSuisMila.
In this, they illustrate the results of a survey by the IFOP institute, The French, the Mila Affair and the right to blasphemy, which reveals a country split in two on the possibility of criticizing religions : 50% of the interviewees said they were in favour of the right to criticize religion without limits, the other half were opposed to it. (See FranceTv info.)
Two variables are of particular importance: age and religion. Thus, 59% of 18-24 year olds and 51% of 25-34 year olds believe that insulting religion is an infringement of freedom of conscience, while this opinion is in the minority among those over 35 years of age. 68% of Muslims equate insulting a religion with an infringement of freedom of conscience, of which 46% "strongly agree".
Opposition to criticism of beliefs and dogmas is strongest among 18-24 year olds: only 41% defend "blasphemy" (compared to 31% in other age groups). This can be seen as an influence of the American way of looking at things; the importance of young people in Muslim religious affiliation probably also plays a role.
According to the IFOP survey, 30% of French people would agree with Abdallah Zekri’s statement ("He who sows the wind reaps the storm"), 44% with the Minister of Justice ("insulting religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience").

As a result of this case, two investigations have been opened: one against Mila, for hate speech, will be closed without follow-up. According to the public prosecutor, the remarks broadcast expressed a personal opinion about a religion, but without any intention of inciting hatred or violence. The other complaint, for calling for murder, is pending.

The substantive issue raised by the Mila case, as did the cartoons of Mohammed and the terrorist attack on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo (as well as other older and perhaps less high-profile cases, such as a 1998 Volkswagen advertisement for the Golf by the DDB Paris agency, or the Benetton advertisement showing two male religious leaders kissing on the mouth), is that of what is called the right to blasphemy. The term is improper, since in fact only believers can evoke blasphemy, and also because this notion no longer exists in French law. It is the right to criticize religions, their symbols or beliefs, even in an extreme and shocking manner. It would appear that in France there is far from unanimity on this issue.

To be consulted on this subject:
 newspaper articles: Francetv info, Marianne, 20 minutes, Le Monde.
 The IFOP survey, February 2020, Les Français, l’affaire Mila et le droit au blasphème (The French, the Mila Affair and the right to blasphemy).
 A book: #JeSuisMila #JeSuisCharlie #NousSommesLaRépublique, 50 personnalités s’expriment sur la laïcité et la liberté d’expression, Seramis, 2020

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • January 2020: Anti-Semitism in France

During the year 2019, various anti-Semitic attacks and insults, and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries in Alsace, reminded us that anti-Semitism is far from having disappeared in France.
It appears, however, that overall prejudice is diminishing: a 2016 survey (Ipsos for the CNCDH) reveals that, although negative stereotypes persist, Jews are the best accepted minority in France: 85% of those interviewed believe that Jews are "French like any other"; in 1946, only a third agreed with this idea. 86% of the interviewees believe that anti-Semitic statements should be condemned. Another poll (Ifop for the Union of Jewish Students in France and Sos Racism), which expresses similar results, also shows that only 2% of those interviewed reacted negatively when they learned that someone in their entourage was Jewish. Overall, religious tolerance has increased.
Although the progress made is to be welcomed, it must be noted that a proportion of the population remains intolerant. It is problematic that 14% of people would find it normal to express anti-Semitic remarks, or even that anyone could consider a member of a minority other than a Frenchman "as someone else".
The attacks of 2015 had drawn attention to attacks on Jews. These attacks do not perhaps always raise as much indignation as they deserve. The anti-Semitic acts, after having increased significantly since the 2000s, had decreased slightly in 2017 but increased again in 2019. Every year, a number of Jews prefer to leave France for Israel, although the figures provided are to be interpreted with caution.
The motives of the perpetrators are not always easy to pin down : they are probably a combination of varying degrees of political conviction, religious hatred, or search for fame.
It would be wrong to believe, however, that a general increase in racist and xenophobic acts and opinions is taking place in France in the general indifference. In 2014, an Interministerial Delegation for the Fight against Racism and Antisemitism (DILCRA) was created. The recent declaration by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announcing the creation of a national office for combating hate to the Director General of the National Gendarmerie is also evidence of the government’s willingness to commit itself against intolerance.
In February 2019, the desecration of synagogues prompted numerous reactions, including marches against anti-Semitism, and church leaders issued a Joint Declaration of Religions and Spiritualities against Anti-Semitism. In Alsace, volunteers (often members of the network Veilleurs de mémoire created by the former pastor Philippe Ichter, who is now in charge of relations with religious denominations for the Alsatian departments) are mobilising to try to fight against these hainous acts.

• Eric Keslassy, De l’antisémitisme en France. Institut Diderot, 2015.
• Jérôme Fourquet, Sylvain Manternach et Michel Wieviorka, L’an prochain à Jérusalem ? Les Juifs de France face à l’antisémitisme. Paris: Fondation Jean Jaurès, 2016.
• Emmanuel Debono, Le racisme dans le prétoire. Antisémitisme, racisme et xénophobie devant la loi. Paris: P.U.F., 2019.
• Georges Benayoun, documentaire Chronique d’un antisémitisme aujourd’hui, 2020.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 24 December 2020    AAnne-Laure Zwilling ANicolas Kazarian


October 2019: Draft law on the wearing of the veil for school trip supervisors
In October, the debate on the issue of wearing the Islamic veil resurfaced in France. In 1989, this question of (...)

  • October 2019: Draft law on the wearing of the veil for school trip supervisors

In October, the debate on the issue of wearing the Islamic veil resurfaced in France.
In 1989, this question of the veil first arose about secondary school students. This sparked intense discussion, which led to the 2004 law on the prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols in schools. Since then, the question of clothing related to religious beliefs, most often concerning Muslims, has been raised regularly: about the full veil in 2010, or the ’burqini’ in 2016. Several national reports have been published on this issue.
Recently, the controversy was rekindled when an elected official of the extreme right-wing party Rassemblement national questioned a woman who was attending a meeting of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté Regional Council, asking her to remove her veil. This woman was accompanying a school trip.
French law, on this point, is not always easy to understand: the wearing of religious symbols is prohibited to school pupils by the 2004 law. But this does not apply to older university students. On the other hand, the wearing of religious symbols is prohibited for public service employees, who are subject to the obligation of religious neutrality of the public service, but this prohibition does not apply to users of the public service.
The status of parents accompanying school trips is not clear; they at first could have been considered by the courts as being subject to the obligation of neutrality of public services, but then were seen as users not subject to this obligation (see the current debates of June 2015).
The proposed law claims to be aiming at mitigating this uncertainty, by amending the Education Code to extend "the prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols laid down by the 2004 law to persons who participate, including on school trips, in activities related to education in or outside schools".
The text was discussed for nearly five hours and then voted on by 163 votes to 114 (with 40 abstentions). The proposed law must now be discussed in the National Assembly.

  • October 2019: The Catholic Church and medically assisted procreation

A draft law on bioethics is being discussed since 24 September in the National Assembly. Its 32 articles include a measure concerning the extension of medically assisted procreation (MAP) to all women. More than 2000 amendments were discussed in the special committee; after this, the draft will be debated from 24 September in the National Assembly.
At a conference at the Collège des Bernardins in September, several bishops had expressed their disagreement with this bill. Several collectives, some of which had been formed during the demonstrations against the marriage of same-sex couples in 2013 (such as La Manif pour tous, Les Veilleurs, Alliance Vita, Les Associations familiales catholiques), others recently created such as the collective Marchons enfants, call for a demonstration against "MAP for all", the first demonstration was scheduled for 6 October.
After the conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the French Bishops’ Conference, told journalists that any citizen concerned about the bill, Catholic or not, had the ’duty’ to demonstrate alongside the opponents (see the journal Liberation).
In the following days, the Catholic Church’s commitment to this social debate became less clear: the spokesman of the French Bishops’ Conference, Thierry Magnin, told the newspaper Le Parisien: "It is not up to us to call for a demonstration or to stigmatize those who will go". Although opposed to allowing all women MAP, the bishop of Evreux Christian Nourrichard does not call on Catholics to demonstrate. Other bishops have done so, however, including the Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun who also participated in the demonstration on 6 October 2019 in Paris.
The organisers announced that they had mobilised 600,000 people, but the independent counting firm Occurrence has counted 74,500, according to the newspaper La Croix. Marchons enfants calls for further demonstrations in December, January, March, May and June, at which time the scale and progress of the mobilization can be assessed.
After an intense but rather short debate, the draft bioethics law was adopted at first reading in the National Assembly on 15 October by 359 votes (114 deputies voted against and 72 abstained). It should be assessed by the Senate in January.

  • June 2019: Evolution of the Roman Catholic Church in France

In its annual activity report, entitled this year Une Église au service (A Church in Service), the Conference of Bishops of France provides some information on the financial situation of the Roman Catholic Church of France. There is a slight decrease in the contribution to the Church’s funds, which would be around minus 4%. The number of donors is also decreasing, but this decrease is offset by the steady increase in average donation, up nearly 14% between 2013 and 2017. Quests, legacies and offerings made at religious ceremonies (baptisms, weddings or funerals) are also on the rise; however, the number of sacraments is decreasing.

See :
 Arnaud Bevilacqua, « L’Église de France fait son bilan annuel », La Croix, 24 June 2019,
 Julien Tranié, « Malgré une baisse, le denier de l’Église a de la ressource », La Croix, 3 December 2018.

  • May 2019: The Vincent Lambert case and the end of life

The case of Vincent Lambert (see Current debates 2014) has just undergone a new twist. Vincent Lambert, who is now a quadriplegic following a traffic accident in 2008, is totally dependent, artificially fed and hydrated and in a state of minimal consciousness since 2011. His case has become emblematic of the end-of-life debate.
In France, the end of life is regulated by Act No. 2016-87 of 2 February 2016creating new rights for patients and persons at the end of life. This act, known as the Claeys-Leonetti Act, introduced a right to "deep and continuous sedation until death" for terminally ill patients and provides that care should be stopped if there is "unreasonable obstinacy", "when care appears unnecessary, disproportionate or has no other effect than the artificial maintenance of life", in order to avoid therapeutic persecution. In addition, an opinion of the Conseil économique, social et environnemental (Economic, Social and Environmental Council) recommended on 10 April 2018 that persons suffering from an incurable disease in "advanced or terminal phase", and whose physical or psychological suffering is "impossible to soothe", should have a right to benefit from "explicitly lethal deep sedation", a provision qualified as "conditional depenalization of assistance to die" (see Le Monde, 10 April 2018).

However, the question of the end of life is still being discussed. This debate goes far beyond the religious issue. In the case of Vincent Lambert, however, it is coloured by the religious convictions of one of the parties: this case mainly opposes Vincent Lambert’s wife to his parents, in particular his mother, close to the brotherhood of Saint Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic movement at odds with the Vatican. On behalf of their convictions, parents oppose decisions to stop treatment. Thus, twice, in 2013 and again in 2014, the nursing staff decided to stop treatment in agreement with V. Lambert’s wife, but the parents referred to an administrative court which annulled this decision both times.
In January 2014, V. Lambert’s wife appealed to the Conseil d’Etat, which, after an expert opinion, ruled that the decision to stop treatment in June 2014 was legal. The parents then referred the matter to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which asked "the French government to suspend the execution of the judgment delivered by the Council of State" until it can rule (see the current debate of 24 June 2014).
The ECHR delivered a judgment on 5 June 2015, considering that the procedure adopted to stop keeping Vincent Lambert alive was in accordance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life). This decision was condemned by the French bishops who consider it to be an assisted suicide rather than a medical stop. (La Croix, 11 June 2016.)
In 2018, Vincent Lambert’s medical team again decided to stop treatment: a report by experts appointed by the Châlons-en-Champagne (Marne) administrative court confirmed Vincent Lambert’s "chronic vegetative state", described as "irreversible". (Le Monde, 22 November 2018.)
The Church considered this decision to stop the treatment unacceptable, by a public declaration of the bioethics group of the French Bishops’ Conference. The Archbishop of Reims and his auxiliary bishop declared that they prayed "so that our French society does not commit itself to the path of euthanasia". (See their declaration.)
The parents again file appeals with the Council of State and the ECHR, which are rejected: the Council of State ruled that the collegial decision taken by the Reims University Hospital to stop care was legal, in a decision handed down on Wednesday 24 April 2019. And on 20 May 2019, the European Court of Human Rights decided to refuse the request for interim measures submitted to it (Lambert and Others v. France, Application No. 21675/19).
On 15 May 2019, the Paris Administrative Court rejected an appeal by Vincent Lambert’s parents, who requested the suspension of the procedure for stopping care pending the examination of their complaint lodged with the UN International Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The court explained its rejection on the grounds that this committee, which is "not a national body", "does not constitute a court", and that the French government "had no obligation to respect" the committee’s request to ensure that Vincent Lambert’s food and hydration are not suspended during the committee’s examination of his case.
Vincent Lambert’s attending physician began stopping his nutrition and hydration in the morning of May 20, 2019.
However, on the evening of 20 May 2019, the Paris Court of Appeal ordered the French State to take all measures to ensure compliance with the provisional measures requested by the CRPD for the resumption of the medical treatment, considering that "regardless of the mandatory or binding nature of the suspension measure requested by the Committee, the French State has undertaken to respect this international pact". This is only a measure to give the CRPD time to decide on the merits. However, this decision was received as a victory by Vincent Lambert’s parents (see Le Monde and Le Parisien, May 20, 2019).

Addition of 13 July 2019: Vincent Lambert died 11 July 2019 following the cessation of treatment.

For further information : Anne-Sophie Faivre Le Cadre, « Affaire Vincent Lambert : tout comprendre en 8 dates », Le Monde, 22 November 2018.

  • March 2019: The Catholic church in a difficult situation due to cases of sexual violence and abuse

In many countries, the Roman Catholic Church has been facing for several decades a difficult situation, with revelations of rape, abuse, sexual violence and paedophilia committed in the Church. Many revelations have recently given even more prominence to these issues, and the Roman Catholic Church dedicated a summit to these issues in the Vatican on 24 February 2019.
In France, the subject has been present in social debates for several years now. In 2017, the French Bishops’ Conference produced a report on the fight against paedophilia in the Church, which was updated in 2018.
In the recent weeks, the debate has taken on a new dimension, with several new revelations: an educational institution run by a traditionalist Catholic community (the children’s village of Riaumont, in Liévin, Pas-de-Calais), is suspected of child abuse (see the article in Libération). Frédéric Martel’s book Sodoma, on homosexuality in the Catholic clergy, and more recently, a documentary entitled Religieuses abusées, l’autre scandale de l’Eglise (Abused nuns, the other scandal of the Church, by Eric Quitin and Marie-Pierre Raimbaud), have added new questions. Finally, most recently, Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, was sentenced to six months’ suspended imprisonment for failing to denounce a priest’s attacks on children (Le Monde). The cardinal announced that he would be submitting his resignation to the Pope (Le Figaro).
A commission was set up last November by the French Bishops’ Conference to investigate sexual abuse of minors in the French Catholic Church since the 1950s. The Commission has 22 members, 10 women and 12 men, and includes believers of different faiths and non-believers, atheists or agnostics, but neither a priest nor a cleric, nor any personality involved (France Inter, Le Figaro, La Vie).

  • February: Antisemitism in France

For several months now, France has been experiencing a major movement of social constestation (the so-called "yellow vests" movement). It is increasingly apparent that this movement is taken as an opportunity for some to formulate messages of hatred against Jews.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Monday 11 February that by 2018, the number of anti-Semitic acts had increased by 74%, from 311 to 541 (Le Monde). Although the reality of these acts is difficult to measure precisely (Le Monde), it remains clear that the proportion of violent acts is becoming more significant than that of insults and threats, and that anti-Semitic prejudices are unfortunately widespread (see the 2016 IFOP survey).
However, the government had stated its intention to become more involved in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, particularly on the Internet. Religious leaders and secular organizations called for a march against anti-Semitism on Tuesday, February 19 (Francetv info).

Reference : Avia Laetitia, Amellal Karim, Taieb Gil, Rapport au Premier ministre sur le renforcement de la lutte contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme sur Internet, 21 September 2018.

  • January: Review of the Law of 1905

There is definitely no end to the discussion of secularism in France: laïcité is one of the themes of the great national debate, launched on 15 January in France, in which citizens are invited to express themselves. Two questions in this debate concern secularism, one asking the French whether its application is satisfactory or to be modified, the other whether they have proposals to make to strengthen its principles in the State’s relationship with religions. Even if ¾ of the French people seem attached to secularism as defined by law, only 46% think that it should not be modified (Viavoice survey for the Observatoire de la laïcité, November 2018).
The inclusion of questions on secularism in the major national debate is in line with work carried out over the past few months by the government, which is considering amending the 1905 law (the law which defines the principles of the separation of the State and religions in France). To this end, a consultation of the Minister of the Interior with religious leaders has been ongoing for several months. Its main objective, in fact, is to encourage as many religious groups as possible, and in particular Muslim associations, to organise themselves according to the provisions of the 1905 law. Many religious associations prefer to adopt the general status of associations (known as the 1901 law): this does not allow them to benefit from the same tax advantages as religious associations, in particular the exemption on donations and legacies, but it is much more flexible in administrative terms. In addition, the status of associations under the 1905 law, known as denominational associations, does not allow them to receive income from property rental.
One of the aims of a revision of the 1905 law (which has already been amended more than fifty times) is undoubtedly to make this status of denominational association more attractive, with a view to better controlling the financial flows of religious groups. However, this raises some reservations on the part of religious leaders, who fear that the administrative structure will become more complex.
The draft law is expected to be released in February; but it will only be presented to the Council of Ministers after the conclusions of the major national debate (see Liberation).

D 21 November 2019    AAnne-Laure Zwilling


Religious issues have not been the subject of much debate in France since the beginning of 2018. However, some elements have marked the news in a more or less sustainable way. The Minister of (...)

Religious issues have not been the subject of much debate in France since the beginning of 2018.

 However, some elements have marked the news in a more or less sustainable way.
The Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, set up a Conseil des sages de la laïcité (Council of Wise Men of Secularism) at the beginning of 2018. This council’s task is to clarify the position of the school institution with regard to secularism. This council is composed of experts from different specialities and with different convictions.

 The attack on three prison guards by a jihadist detainee at the Vendin-le-Veil prison (Pas-de-Calais) triggered the mobilization of many prison guards, who denounce the insecurity they face in prison establishments. The issue of religious radicalisation of prisoners, but also that of persons returning from an engagement in Iraq and Syria, is now a major problem for the prison institution, which has already been strongly criticised by the International Prison Observatory for problems of overcrowding and unhealthy conditions in institutions. In February, the government announced a plan to combat radicalisation (see Le Figaro, L’express, Le Muslim post, Libération).

 The indictment in February 2018 of Tariq Ramadan, a sometimes controversial but well-known Muslim theologian of major importance, for "rape" and "rape of vulnerable persons" has also caused much publicity (see for example Le Monde, Le Parisien, Libération).

 As part of the hearings on the revision of bioethics laws, the Comité national consultatif d’éthique (CCNE, National Consultative Ethics Committee) received representatives of the various religious groups present in France. The CCNE submitted its Summary Report on Bioethics to Parliament on June 4, 2018.

 The televised intervention of a leader of the UNEF (a students’ union) at the University of Paris-Sorbonne caused a brief controversy, as the young woman, Myriam Pougetoux, appeared wearing a head scarf. It can be difficult to understand that the principle of secularism has led to a ban on the wearing of religious symbols in public schools in France, but that this ban does not apply to university students, who are users of public services (see Le Monde).

D 24 August 2018    AAnne-Laure Zwilling


28 August 2017: Invalidation of the end of pork-free menus in the canteens of Chalon-sur-Saône
On 28 August 2017, the Dijon Administrative Court overturned the decision of the city of (...)

  • 28 August 2017: Invalidation of the end of pork-free menus in the canteens of Chalon-sur-Saône

On 28 August 2017, the Dijon Administrative Court overturned the decision of the city of Chalon-sur-Saône which, in September 2015, had eliminated pork substitute menus in school canteens (see “Substitute menus vs vegetarian menus in school cafeterias”). The court found that “this decision did not give primary consideration to the interests of the children within the meaning of the international convention on the rights of the child”. It specified in a press release that it was ruling in this instance solely on the case of the Chalon-sur-Saône school canteens, and that it was not issuing a general position of principle.

The Les Républicains Mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône, Gilles Platret, announced that the municipality would appeal the judge’s ruling. Given that this ruling came only a few days before the start of the school year and that it is materially impossible to implement in such a short time, the mayor decided to maintain the cafeterias’ existing working principles and “to attach to his appeal to the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon a summary suspension”.

For more information: Le Figaro, France Info.

Catherine Zimmerlin
  • July 2017: "Laïcité" and financing of churches: the case of French Guiana

By its decision of 2 June 2017 on the public funding of Catholic ministers of religion in French Guiana, the Constitutional Council addresses another singularity of the French regime of "laïcité".

See the article by Anne Fornerod, Après le droit alsacien-mosellan, le droit des cultes guyanais devant le Conseil constitutionnel français, 5 July 2017, ORELA (in French).

Anne Fornerod
  • 3 May 2017: Compulsory training for chaplains

The decree No. 2017-756 of 3 May 2017 renders compulsory for newly recruited military, hospital and prison chaplains, who receive remuneration, to obtain a civil and civic training diploma within two years of their recruitment. This obligation is applicable overseas only if training to obtain this diploma can be followed there, including as distance learning.
These provisions concern initial contracts concluded as from 1 October 2017 and are relevant only to chaplains who receive public remuneration, since voluntary chaplains are not concerned.
A decree of 5 May 2017 lays down the terms and conditions for the approval of training courses, which will be entitled to issue the diploma. Institutions of higher education are invited to apply for the registration of their training courses with a minimum of 125 hours and comprising « at least the following three courses: (1) Institutions of the Republic and secularism; (2) Great principles of the law of religion; (3) Human and social sciences of religions. The teaching referred to in (1) and (2) shall be a minimum of 70 hours » (Article 1). No pre-qualification requirements may be demanded to enroll in these courses. Educational institutions must also provide for the methods of awarding the diploma by validating previous studies or acquired experience (Article 1). The registration of training courses approved by the Ministers of the Interior and Higher Education is valid for a period of five years (Article 2).
These new provisions seek to ensure that candidates to chaplaincy have a minimum knowledge base relating to the administrative and legal context in which they operate.

Françoise Curtit
  • 8 February 2017: The Asswiller bells to be muted from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Following a complaint lodged by a couple living in Asswiller, a small commune in the Bas-Rhin, the administrative court of Strasbourg gave the mayor of the village 3 months to “attenuate the sound of the ringing of the Protestant church clock between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.”. If this cannot be implemented technically, the mayor must “suspend its operation in the meantime”. However, the ruling leaves it up to the town hall to use the church’s other bells.

This dispute has been going on since 2009, when the couple moved into the village a few metres from the church. Since then, exasperated by the sound pollution caused by the bells, the couple has begun to wonder: “At a time when secularism is the focus of discussion, why do we have to suffer the bells of a church that remains almost empty during services?” (see Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace).

The municipality will have to reimburse the couple for the €2,300 which the appraisal cost them. This ruling could encourage residents of other municipalities affected by the same problem to follow in their footsteps.

Voir France Bleu.

Catherine Zimmerlin
  • January 2017: Changes regarding organ donation

Law no. 2016-41 of 26 January 2016 on the modernisation of the French health system came into effect on 1 January 2017. This law covers in particular the issue of organ donation.
The Caillavet Act of 1976 already provided that any deceased person is considered a donor unless they are previously registered in the national register of refusals. In practice, however, where the deceased has not voiced any preference, the family and friends of the deceased were often called upon by the caregivers, which led to a high number of refusals to donate.
The Ministry of Health sought ways to increase the number of donors. It held several consultations with a view to establishing a ministerial decree on the procedures for refusing organ donation. One of them brought together representatives of religious institutions. Currently, no religious institution condemns organ donation in France. Some support the principle, such as the Catholic Church and most Protestant Churches, while others such as Judaism or Islam refer each individual to their own decision.
Law no. 2016-41 of 26 January 2016 was drafted following these consultations. It confirms the 1976 Cavaillet Act, and every French person remains a presumed donor unless they expressly object during their lifetime to the removal of any organ, as stated by Decree 2016-1118 of 11 August 2016 regarding procedures for stating the refusal of organ removal after death. This objection may be made by being listed on the National Registry of Refusals. The objection may also be expressed in writing to a relative, or even by verbal notification to the relatives; the objection may be revoked at any time.
See also, in the chapter on the legal status of religions, the specific provisions regarding organ donation.

. Law no. 2016-41 of 26 January 2016 on the modernisation of the French health system
. Decree 2016-1118 of 16 August 2016 approving the rules of good practice relating to the interviewing of relatives with regard to organ and tissue removal
. National website for organ donation

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 30 August 2017    AAnne Fornerod AAnne-Laure Zwilling ACatherine Zimmerlin AFrançoise Curtit


November 2016: The presence of Nativity scenes in public places at Christmas time The question of whether Nativity scenes should be put up in public places, which crops up in the public debate (...)

  • November 2016: The presence of Nativity scenes in public places at Christmas time

The question of whether Nativity scenes should be put up in public places, which crops up in the public debate every year around Christmas, seems to be on the verge of being settled: should they be banned in public places, in the name of the principle of secularism, because of their religious significance? This is what the Association of French Mayors (AMF), chaired by François Baroin (a member of the party Les Républicains), asserts in a series of recommendations on living together in society and secularism published in November 2015 for all French municipalities, in which the association urges mayors not to set up Nativity scenes in administrative buildings in the name of the “religious neutrality” of the State. Some, to the contrary, feel that it is above all a cultural practice connected with a highly secularised social practice, and is thus acceptable in a separation regime: to wit, in December 2014, a survey by the IFOP showed that 71% of the French were in favour of having Nativity scenes shown, more as a component of culture than as a Christian symbol (IFOP for France Ouest Dimanche, “Les Français et la polémique des crèches de Noël dans les collectivités locales” (“The French and the controversy over Nativity scenes in local municipalities”, December 2014). This duality of viewpoints is evident in the opposing decisions of two administrative tribunals on this issue. In 2014, the Administrative Court of Nantes had ordered the General Council of Vendée to remove the Christmas Nativity scene set up as every year in its entrance hall. This decision was overruled in October 2015 by the Nantes Court of Appeal. Also in 2015, the Paris Court of Appeal ruled in favour of an association that had refused to set up a Nativity scene in the town hall of Melun.

The Litigation Assembly of the Council of State (the highest administrative court in France) reviewed these two cases on 21 October 2016. The Council of State’s public Rapporteur, Aurélie Bretonneau, recommended that Christmas crèches be allowed in administrative buildings, subject to certain conditions. On the basis of the 1905 Law and the possibility of “exhibitions” in public places, the public rapporteur argued an authorisation in principle, provided that such exhibition is “temporary”, not accompanied by any display of “religious proselytism” and lastly, that it has the “character of a cultural or at least festive event”. This line of reasoning by the public rapporteur is significant. The final ruling of the Council of State of 9 November 2016 in the end specified the conditions for the legality of the temporary installation of Christmas crèches by public persons, deemed legal “if it presents a cultural, artistic or festive character, but not if it expresses the recognition of a confession or marks a religious preference”.

Sources: Le Monde, Le Parisien, La Croix.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • September 2016: Laïcité, once again

In a context of constant debate around the issue of secularity (laïcité), reignited this summer by court decisions on the wearing of the burkini (see debates of August 2016), the Observatoire de la laïcité (whose mission it is to “assist the Government in its work to ensure respect for the principle of laïcité in France”) has just published two documents.

The first, entitled Déclaration pour la laïcité [lit. declaration for secularity], is set out following the motto of the French Republic: liberty, fraternity and equality. It stresses that secularity must above all evoke freedom - freedom of conscience and of religious practice, even if its public manifestations take place within a legal framework. Laïcité makes it possible to ensure equality among citizens through the principle of separation of the State from religion. It also seeks to contribute to the ideal of fraternity.

The second, Libertés et interdits dans le cadre laïque [lit. freedoms and taboos within the secular context], sets out in a more detailed way how the principle of secularity implies taboos and limits, varying according to the place, but also guarantees rights and freedoms.

In 2014, the Observatoire had published a guidance note, which initially recalled the history of the construction of the principle of laïcité, then explained the legal meaning of laïcité as well as its repercussions for society, finally detailing the application of the principle of secularity to modern realities.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • August 2016: The wearing of the burkini on French beaches

Debates and controversy about the wearing of the “burkini” (a swimsuit covering the whole body as well as the head) on French beaches arose in the national press in August, when it reported on a municipal decree adopted by the mayor of Cannes banning “access to beaches and bathing [...] to any person not having appropriate attire, respectful of good morals and secularism, respecting the rules of hygiene and safety of bathing adapted to the maritime public domain. ” (Le Monde, 11 August 2016). Nearly thirty cities will adopt similar enactments, including the municipality of Villeneuve-Loubet. The appeal filed against this municipal order gave rise to a judgement of the Administrative Court of Nice on 22 August 2016, which did not find any illegality. This ruling was appealed to the interim relief judge of the Council of State. In an order dated 26 August 2016, the High Administrative Court ruled in relation to this municipal order that “the investigation does not show that risks of disturbance to public order have resulted, on the beaches of the municipality of Villeneuve-Loubet, from the attire adopted for swimming by certain persons. The administrative judge appreciates the reality of the risks of disturbance to the public order with regard to which a mayor may use his police power. The measures taken in this case must be based on the “needs of public order alone, in and as they arise from the circumstances of time and place, and taking into account the requirements of good access to the shore, safety of bathing and hygiene and decency on the beach. It is not for the mayor to rely on other considerations, and the restrictions he places on freedoms must be justified by proven risks to the public order”. However, "in the absence of such risks, the emotion and concern resulting from the terrorist attacks, and in particular that committed in Nice on 14 July last, cannot suffice to legally justify the contested ban. ” Thus, the solution adopted by the Council of State is based on standard reasoning to conclude that the execution of the municipal decree should be suspended. It should be noted that it establishes a clear distance between the issue of the supervision of the wearing of religious signs in public space and the context of the fight against terrorism, just as it perpetuates the classic duality between political analysis and a legal approach to the issue of the wearing of religious signs in the public space.

Anne Fornerod
  • 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.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • April 2016: The Catholic church and the affairs of sexual assaults on children

A case of child abuse sparked significant media agitation recently in France. Beyond the legitimate outrage provoked by this information, this case raises the question of the responsibility of the hierarchy of the Church.
Bernard P., a priest who admitted committing sexual assaults between 1986 and 1991, was indicted in January 2016; the judges ruled that these acts were not prescribed. A victims association has filed a complaint, saying that Mgr Barbarin, appointed in 2002 Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon, had known of the pedophile actions committed by the priest of his diocese without reporting it to justice, and even allowed the priest to continue to work in contact with children. Cardinal Barbarin was also said to have been aware of similar acts committed by another priest, Jerome B., between 2007 and 2009. He is, therefore, within the scope of a legal investigation for failing to report sexual abuse of a minor (see Le Monde and Libération).
Since then, other cases of clergymen accused of sexual assault have surfaced again in the diocese of Lyon. The media agitation was increased by the statements of Prime Minister Manuel Valls calling the archbishop of Lyon to "take responsibility", and of the Minister of Education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said in response that he had "never covered any act of paedophilia."
This controversy affects the image of the Catholic Church, especially by revealing defensive mechanisms still at work, which can sometimes lead to give precedence to the protection of the institution over the consideration of victims. However, failure to report such facts incurs a penalty of three years in prison. In 2001, the bishop of a priest convicted for rape and assault of minors has been given a three-month suspended prison sentence for failing to report the crime of sexual molestation. The Bishops’ Conference of France recalled in 2003 the obligation for all, including Church leaders, to denounce a fact of sexual assault to their knowledge (see La lutte contre la pédophilie republished in 2010). Progress is still needed, obviously, and the Permanent Council of the Bishops’ Conference of France has taken up the issue. They announced in April a set of dispositions destined to prevent child abuses in the Catholic Church and to improve the management of these facts. A national expert committee against paedophilia (Commission nationale d’expertise contre la pédophilie) is also set up by the Catholic Church.

On this question, read an article of Stéphane Joulain, "La pédophilie dans l’Eglise catholique: un point de vue interne", Esprit, October 2011, p. 28-39.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • January 2016: Ritual slaughter

The concern to take into account animal suffering frequently raises questions about the practice of ritual slaughter, where the animal’s throat is slit without its being first stunned; several associations and movements advocate against this practice (see for example On 24 November, the President of the French Veterinary Council stated at a conference held in the Senate that “any slaughtered animal must be effectively rendered unconscious, prior to bleeding and until the end of the slaughter”, prompting indignation from Haïm Korsia, the Chief Rabbi of France.
The Ministry of Agriculture, in its response of 5 January to a written parliamentary question from the Socialist MP Hervé Féron (Question No. 90855) calling into question exemptions to the obligation to stun animals, recalled that ritual slaughter, carried out without prior stunning of the animal, “falling within the free exercise of worship”, is governed by French and European law and that this derogation to the law “does not infringe on the principle of secularism” (on the legal framework of ritual slaughter, see the chapter on the legal status of religions, and the other specific provisions).
Indicating that the issue remains topical, a working group on ritual slaughter in France has been set up. It is facilitated by the Ministry of the Interior’s Office of Worship and had been planned since the first meeting of the dialogue body with the Muslim faith on 15 June 2015. It plans to publish a practical guide on the subject in March.
The practitioners assert the need for this method of slaughter in the name of their religious precepts; between supporters of religious freedom who deem it necessary that this method of slaughter exists, and supporters of the protection of animals who deem that it causes unnecessary suffering to the animals slaughtered, the debate remains lively.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 12 December 2016    AAnne Fornerod AAnne-Laure Zwilling


November 2015: The training of imams in France
The issue of training for imams has been a subject of discussion for a few years now, in France. Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux, stated during a (...)

  • November 2015: The training of imams in France

The issue of training for imams has been a subject of discussion for a few years now, in France. Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux, stated during a television interview on 17 November that he wanted to render imam training compulsory. Meanwhile, the President of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), Anouar Kbibech, announced on November 24 that he wanted to set up “imam accreditation” certifying the teaching of a “tolerant and open Islam”. In so doing, they revived the public debate.
“Imam training” can imply different realities, though. The first idea that comes to mind is religious training; however, as France is a secular Republic, the training of religious leaders is not covered by the State (except under local law in Alsace-Moselle). Imams can therefore receive such training in France only at private institutes such as Al-Ghazali or the European Institute of Human Sciences sponsored by UOIF; otherwise, they are trained abroad.
This does not mean, however, that the State is turning its interest away from training for religious leaders. The Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, stated in June that imams posted from their countries of origin (Turkey, Algeria and Morocco), which represent the majority of the approximately 2,300 imams of France, will soon be required to take part in 125 to 200 hours of civil and civic training, culminating in a university degree. This will probably be carried out through a programme of international collaboration: for example, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius signed in September a cooperation agreement with Morocco so that the religious training followed in Rabat by around fifty French imams is supplemented by civic education provided by France. An agreement was also signed with Algeria, on 8 October, to make registration mandatory for Algerian imams sent to France for a degree in secularism. Negotiations are also underway with Turkey.
The university training courses in secularism organised in France are therefore gaining dimension. Prime Minister Manuel Valls had already announced as much in March 2015, and the Ministry of the Interior is preparing a decree that will ultimately require all State-paid chaplains (serving in hospitals, prisons or the army) to receive training in secularism. Five new university degrees (DU) opened in 2015, will come in addition to the six that already existed (see training in secularism).

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2015: ECHR judgement

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has handed down its 26 November ruling in the Ebrahimian v. France case (petition No 64846/11).
Christiane Ebrahimian was recruited as a social worker at general Hospital in Nanterre, a public establishment. In December 2000, the hospital refused to renew her employment contract on the grounds that she refused to remove her headscarf while working. Mrs Ebrahimian contested her dismissal, but the French court ultimately confirmed its validity. Mrs Ebrahimian appealed to the court alleging that this non-renewal of the contract was a breach of Article 9 of the Convention.
The Court of Justice in Strasbourg, in a decision delivered by six votes in favour and one against, states that the French model is based on principles aimed at “the legitimate aim of protecting the rights and freedoms of others”. It also wrote that "the national authorities have not overstepped their margin of appreciation by noting the lack of possible reconciliation between Mrs Ebrahimian’s religious beliefs and the obligation to refrain from displaying them" (see article by Le Monde or Human Rights Europe).

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • September 2015: substitute menus vs vegetarian menus in school canteens

On 14 September, the Minister of Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, stated that she did not wish to make the vegetarian menu mandatory in canteens, the substitute menu having enabled all requests to be met for many years now. The Minister thus took a position in a debate that resurfaces from time to time but already extends several years back. In France, it municipalities are in charge of school canteens for first-cycle education (primary schools). Already in 2013, Didier Doucet, mayor of Lagny-le-Sec, refused menu diversity in school canteens. In 2014, he was followed by a number of others, including Marcel Morteau, mayor of Sargé-lès-Le-Mans (in the latter case, the Observatoire de la Laïcité had reiterated, in an opinion made public on 10 December 2014, that "secularism cannot be used as grounds to refuse menu diversity").
Last March, Gilles Platret, mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône and co-president of the "secular" working group within the Association of Mayors of France (AMF), decided to put an end to menus with substitutes for pork in the school canteens in his city. The Muslim Judicial Defence League filed an appeal with the Dijon Administrative Court. Gilles Platret explained his position, citing the principle of neutrality and equal treatment in public service (see Le Figaro).
On 13 August 2015, the Dijon Administrative Court dismissed this appeal on the grounds of “lack of urgency”: it considered that, insofar as no meal containing pork would be served before 15 October, “access to school food services for all users, including children of the Muslim faith, does not appear to be jeopardised”.
The Muslim association simultaneously initiated a substantive procedure which will not be considered until several months from now, but has warned that there will be a continuation of proceedings if Gilles Platret’s decision is ratified by the City Council on 29 September.
On 14 August 2015, Yves Jégo, UDI MP (Union of Democrats and Independents) and Mayor of Montereau-Fault-Yonne (Seine-et-Marne), announced that he would submit a bill to make an alternative vegetarian meal compulsory in school canteens. He launched an online petition that received over 129,000 signatures in 4 weeks’ time. Some cities have already been offering this type of menu for some time, Perpignan (in June 2015) and Pau and Toulouse (in September 2015) followed more recently.
Underscoring the concurrent religious and political dimensions of this topic, in March 2015, several intellectuals, including the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, signed an opinion piece in newspaper Le Monde: “The vegetarian menu, the most secular of all ", explaining that their proposal was first and foremost pragmatic, and that the vegetarian meal was the one that was suitable for the widest possible population. The Minister’s recent statement, however, shows that she does not support this proposal.

Catherine Zimmerlin
  • June 2015: accompanying parents and religious signs

The Administrative Court of Nice, in a ruling handed down on 9 June 2015, brought a new factor into the debate on the legal status of parents of pupils volunteering to accompany school trips while wearing the Islamic headscarf. It had been maintained thus far that parents were, under those circumstances, subject to the obligation of religious neutrality in public service and, therefore, could not wear religious signs. This position had been set out by the Montreuil Administrative Court in a ruling issued on 22 November 2011, according to which the disputed internal regulations constituted “an application of the constitutional principle of neutrality in public service to parents of pupils accompanying school field trips, who participate as volunteers in the public service of the elementary school”.
Adopting a more liberal position, the Nice Court ruled, on the contrary, that “parents of pupils authorised to accompany a school outing in which their child participates, must be seen, like pupils, as users of the public education service” and that “restrictions on the freedom to express their religious opinions can only result from specific texts or considerations relating to public order or the proper functioning of the service”. In this instance, however, none of these grounds had been cited against the appealing party. This ruling echoes the opinion of the Council of State in December 2013. The Council of State had been asked for an opinion by the Public Defender of Rights, precisely to determine whether mothers accompanying school outings are allowed to wear religious external signs. On this occasion, the Council clearly reasserted that “there is no relevant legal category between agent and user” (p. 29), such that the obligation of religious neutrality would apply. Only “requirements relating to the proper functioning of the public education service may lead the competent authority, in the case of parents of pupils participating in school trips or activities, to recommend refraining from showing their religious belonging or beliefs” (p. 34).

Anne Fornerod
  • May 2015: Secularism in Alsace-Moselle

In May 2015, the Observatory on Secularism published an Opinion on the legal regimen on local faiths in Alsace and Moselle, opening a few avenues for a possible modernisation in this regard. The changes aim to align the local law in effect in Alsace-Moselle with general law, modify the organisation of religious education and enable administrative simplification. Thus, it is expected that local law will soon, like general law, repeal the offence of blasphemy under local law (which does not exist in general law), and align the punishment for disturbance of a practice of religion with the 9 December 1905 Law.
Religious education should be chosen by pupils who wish to take part, and not, as is currently the case, have to be refused by those who do not want to participate in it. Students should furthermore be free to change their decision in this respect at any time in their schooling. Religious education should be organised as an addition to general school education, and the “supplementary moral teaching” required of students who do not take part in a religious course should be abolished, this course now being part of the national curricula.
Lastly, a practical manual of local law should be produced, administrative relations between the public authorities and religious communities should be simplified, and district maps managed at the prefect level.
The law on faiths in Alsace-Moselle had been consolidated by the Constitutional Council and declared compliant with the Constitution, in February 2013.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 15 December 2015    AAnne Fornerod AAnne-Laure Zwilling ACatherine Zimmerlin


22 July 2014: injunction to serve halal meals in prison overturned
By its ruling of 22 July 2014, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon overturned the judgement of the Administrative (...)

  • 22 July 2014: injunction to serve halal meals in prison overturned

By its ruling of 22 July 2014, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon overturned the judgement of the Administrative Court of Grenoble of 7 November 2013 that ordered Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison (in the French département of Isère) to offer halal meals to Muslim prisoners (see the ’current debate’ section for March 2014 below).
The court took the view that the various menus on offer ensure that prisoners are not obliged to eat food prohibited by the rules of the religion, that prisoners can furthermore request the supply of appropriate menus for religious holidays and have the option of buying halal meat through the ’canteen’. Therefore, a fair balance is maintained between the necessities of public service and prisoners’ religious rights.

For further information see the press release issued by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon.

  • 1 July 2014: European Court of Human Rights rules on SAS v France

On 1 July 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the SAS v France case. The applicant held that the law of 11 October 2010 prohibiting any person from concealing their face in public infringed upon her right to a private life (Article 8 of the European Convention) and essentially, her freedom of religion (Article 9). Finally, she argued that this law was discriminatory as it is aimed at Muslim women. The Court ruled that Article 9 concerning freedom of religion had not been infringed, thus giving discharge to the law, although it expressed numerous and serious reservations with respect to this law.

Based on the Court’s standard method of reasoning, it successively examined the interference in freedom of religion invoked in this particular case, the existence of legitimate goal(s) pursued by the restriction imposed on this freedom and, finally, the relationship of proportionality between the goal pursued and the prohibition or restriction.

Firstly, the existence of interference was not disputed in this specific case. Secondly, the Court conceded that the French legislator was indeed pursuing the legitimate goal of “responding to issues of ’public order’ or ’public safety’”, although one may “question whether the legislator gave significant weight to such concerns”. As regards the second legitimate goal, the French government argued that it sought to “respect minimum requirements for the values of a democratic and open society”. These requirements related to three values: “respect for gender equality, respect for individuals’ dignity and respect for the minimum requirements of life in society”. Having noted that only goals expressly set out in the Convention can be taken into consideration, the Strasbourg judges decided to examine this second goal from the perspective of protecting others’ rights and freedoms.

With regard to the principle of gender equality, the Court considered that this could not be invoked “in order to ban a practice that is defended by women such as the appellant within the scope of exercising rights” recognised by the Convention. It also did not accept the grounds of respecting individual dignity, while in contrast linking the legislator’s will to ensure that people continue to live together harmoniously with the legitimate aim of protecting others’ rights and freedoms. However, the “flexibility of the notion of ‘living together’ and the risk of excesses arising from this obliged the Court to perform” an in-depth examination of proportionality.
Within the scope of this examination of proportionality, the Court checked whether interference in freedom of religion is necessary in a democratic society or for protecting others’ rights and freedoms.

In this specific case, the general ban on people concealing their faces in public, “considering its impact on the rights of women who wish to wear the full-face veil for religious reasons” was deemed disproportionate to the aim of preventing detriment to the safety of individuals and property. The Court also took the view that the “contested ban may be deemed justified in principle solely insofar as it aims to safeguard conditions for ’living together”. However, the contested ban only just meets the requirements of proportionality with respect to this legitimate goal. Indeed, the Court highlighted the disproportion between the small number of women concerned and the enforcement of a law instituting a general ban, as well as the “strong negative impact on the circumstances of women who, like the applicant, have chosen to wear a full-face veil for reasons related to their beliefs”. It furthermore stated that it was “very concerned” by the Islamophobic comments that accompanied the legislative process and “noted that comments constituting a general and vehement attack against a group identified by a religion or ethnic origins are incompatible with the values of tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination that underpin the Convention”.

In contrast, the Strasbourg judges took the view that the ban was aimed at the fact that the veil conceals people’s faces rather than at its religious meaning, which distinguishes this case from the case of Ahmet Arslan and others versus Turkey, which related to a ban on religious dress in public. The mild nature of the penalties incurred was also highlighted. Finally and most importantly, the Court deferred to France’s large margin of discretion in this specific case, since: “the issue of whether or not to allow people to wear a full-face veil in public constitutes a choice for society”; “public policy issues” were involved; and the law of 11 October 2010 was the result of “arbitration performed in accordance with democratic procedures in the society in question”. The Court therefore ruled by fifteen votes to two that the applicant’s freedom of religion had not been infringed and the opposing opinion of the two judges was appended to the ruling.

Anne Fornerod
  • 25 June 2014: The Court of Cassation upholds the dismissal of an employee of the Baby Loup nursery

By its ruling of 25 June 2014, the French Court of Cassation sitting in plenary session brought the ’Baby Loup’ case to a close by rejecting the nursery employee’s appeal against the Court of Appeal of Paris ruling of 27 November 2013 (see Current debates 2013). The Court of Cassation confirmed that her dismissal by her employer following her refusal to remove her veil was justified, hence approving the court of appeal ruling that the restriction on freedom of religious expression laid down in the nursery’s internal rules was not general in nature, and was sufficiently specific, justified by the nature of tasks to be carried out and proportionate to the goal pursued. The Court specified that the principle of secularism is nevertheless not applicable to employees of private companies that do not manage a public service. It furthermore noted that the Baby Loup Association cannot be classified as an ’entreprise de conviction’ [special French status for companies espousing specific religious, political or philosophical beliefs] and therefore its purpose is not to promote or defend religious, political or philosophical beliefs.

For further information:
Cass. plen. sess., 25 June 2014, n° 13-28.369, L. v Assoc. Baby-Loup.

  • 24 June 2014: the ECHR suspends the Conseil d’Etat ruling whereby the medical decision to end Mr Vincent Lambert’s treatment is considered legal

Since a road accident in 2008 left Mr Vincent Lambert paralysed, he has been fed and hydrated artificially and is entirely dependent.
Following the consultation procedure provided for by the Leonetti Act of 22 April 2005 regarding patient rights and the end of life, the physician responsible for Mr Vincent Lambert took a decision on 11 January 2014 to stop feeding and hydrating the patient. Members of the family then brought the matter before the administrative court in Châlons-en-Champagne which, in its judgement of 16 January 2014, suspended the enforcement of the physician’s decision.
On 31 January 2014, Vincent Lambert’s wife and one of his nephews filed an appeal against this decision to the Council of State, which requested a medical assessment by a panel of three physicians. On 24 June 2014, the Conseil d’État disputes assembly ruled that the decision taken by the physician responsible for Mr Vincent Lambert to stop artificially feeding and hydrating him was legal, notably in view of the medical assessment that found that Mr Lambert’s state of consciousness had deteriorated and in light of the fact that Mr Lambert had expressed a desire prior to the accident not to be artificially kept alive if he was in a state of considerable dependence.
On 23 June 2014, the initial applicants referred the matter to the European Court of Human Rights for an interim measure. On 24 June 2014, the chamber to which the case was assigned decided to suspend enforcement of the ruling issued by the Conseil d’État for the duration of proceedings before the ECHR, which is now responsible for examining the admissibility and merits of the application.

Sources: press release by the Conseil d’Etat, 24 June 2014 and press release by the European Court of Human Rights, 25 June 2014.
Read also the article by Lucie Guichon « Fin de vie, soins palliatifs et euthanasie : les réactions des organisations religieuses à l’affaire Vincent Lambert » (pdf).

  • 4 June 2014: the French Council of the Muslim Faith issues a reminder of fundamental principles

On 4 June 2014, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) decided to publish a “Civic agreement for French Muslims promoting integration”. This publication has come at a turbulent time with the topic of religious radicalism back on the agenda. In it, the CFCM lists the fundamental principles of Islam in 19 points and emphasises their compatibility with secularism and French society.

For further information: Le Monde and le Figaro.

  • March 2014: a prison obliged to provide halal meals to Muslim prisoners

On 20 March 2014, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon refused to suspend the enforcement of a ruling issued by the Administrative Court of Grenoble, which, on 7 November 2013, obliged the prison administration of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier (in the French département of Isère) to regularly provide halal meals to Muslim prisoners on the grounds of freedom of religious practice. This decision was to be enforced within three months, which expired on 7 February.
The Ministry of Justice then appealed and requested that enforcement of the ruling be suspended on the grounds of “disruption to the prison service”, the complexity of certifying halal products and the fact that religious freedom was already upheld since vegetarian or pork-free menus were offered. The judgement of 20 March held that there was no “prohibitive additional expense for the prison” nor “any particular technical difficulty”. Halal meals are already provided for prisoners during major religious festivals. They can also purchase halal food at the canteen.

The chief inspector of custodial facilities took the view that providing faith-based meals (halal or kosher) in prisons does not infringe the principle of secularism (see his 2013 annual report, Section 8: ’Feedback on the issue of secularism in custodial facilities’). He states that it is difficult to refuse this freedom insofar as “the law of 1905 authorises chaplaincy services and funds allocated to expenditure for solely religious purposes”. He believes that in view of the principle of secularism, there is no difference between not serving pork and serving meals that are compliant with religious rituals.
In her comment* regarding the judgement delivered by the Administrative Court of Grenoble, Florence Nicoud takes the opposite view. She claims that by enforcing the compulsory provision of halal meals, the judgement reinterprets the principle of secularism as defined by the law of 1905 and challenges the neutrality of public service by responding to demands that appear to be community-based. She believes that this judgement creates a difficult situation, since as long as the public authorities fail to take a stance on this issue, an increasing number of disparate situations will emerge. This may spread to other public services such as hospitals, the armed forces or school dinners.
A ruling on the merits of the case is expected by the end of the year.

* Florence Nicoud: "Laïcité et restauration collective : du nouveau dans les prisons" [Secularism and catering: new developments in prisons], Grenoble Administrative Court, 7 Nov 2013, no. 13-02502, JCPA, no 15, 14 April 2014.

For further information: Revue générale du droit, Le Monde, le Figaro.

D 11 September 2014   


27 November 2013: The Paris Court of Appeal announces its decision in the Baby Loup case
In its judgment of 27 November 2013, the Paris Court of Appeal added a new dimension to what has become (...)

  • 27 November 2013: The Paris Court of Appeal announces its decision in the Baby Loup case

In its judgment of 27 November 2013, the Paris Court of Appeal added a new dimension to what has become known as the “Baby Loup case”; it all started with the dismissal from the crèche of a female employee who wore the Islamic veil. The crèche’s house rules specified that “the principle of freedom of conscience and religion of each member of staff cannot hinder respect for the principles of secularity and neutrality that apply in performing all the activities undertaken by Baby Loup, no matter whether on crèche premises or in its annexes or else in providing external support for children in the nursery” and the crèche used these rules to oppose the religious beliefs defended by its employee. In its judgment of 19 March 2013, the Court of Cassation had considered that “the principle of secularity established by Article 1 of the Constitution does not apply to employees of private companies who do not manage a public service”, which is the case of the Baby Loup nursery, a private law association. Thereafter, the provisions of the labour code apply, which provide that “No-one shall restrict persons’ rights and individual and collective liberties which would not be justified by the nature of the task at hand nor proportionate to the desired objective” (Article L. 1121-1). The general clause on secularity and neutrality featuring in the house rules of the Baby Loup association was thus judged to be invalid and the dismissal of the employee was declared null and void.

The Paris Court of Appeal confirmed the legality of the dismissal, yet following different reasoning. As such, it held that the crèche could be regarded as an “organisation with an ethos based on belief within the meaning of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights”, which would allow it to impose the neutrality obligation on its employees, just like an organisation with an ethos based on religion that can require that its employees adhere to a line of thinking defined by a religious doctrine. This idea of an organisation with an ethos based on religion or belief, absent from the labour code, is however defined in European Union law (Directive 2000/78 of 27 November 2000, which recognises in these organisations the “right to require from individuals working for them an attitude of good faith and loyalty to the ethics of the organisation”), as well as in French case law. In this case, this requirement of religious neutrality would be required to “respect and protect the wakening awareness of children”. An alternative approach to secularity is thus being put forward, having it change from a legal principle - which applies to public authorities in their relations with religious institutions and activities - to becoming a “conviction”.

For further information:
 CA Paris, 27 Nov. 2013, Madame Fatima L. / Association Baby Loup (in French)

  • 16 October 2013: Jehovah’s Witnesses chaplains must be approved for prisons

The Council of State was called upon to quash several legal disputes relating to refusals to accept representatives from the Jehovah’s Witnesses as prison chaplains. The prison administration based its refusal on the insufficient number of detainees claiming to belong to this confession. The administrative courts and administrative courts of appeal involved had already condemned this reasoning (see Current Debates, 30 May 2011).

The Council of State confirmed the solution adopted by the original trial judges. Indeed, it recalled that detainees’ freedom of opinion, conscience and religion is guaranteed and that they “may exercise the religion of their choice, in accordance with the suitable conditions for organising the premises, within solely the limits imposed by security and good order in the institution”. The provisions of the Code of Penal Procedure require that prison authorities, “insofar as premises allow and within solely the limits imposed by security and good order in the institution, allow for the organisation of worship in establishments; that solely facilitating common law visits by representatives of the faith could not satisfy these obligations; that Paragraph 2 of no. 29 of the European Prison Rules, of which the minister avails himself and which is, moreover, without real legal scope, simply recommends making the number of approved chaplains proportional to the number of faithful, but has neither as its aim nor as its result for refusals of approval to be justified by low numbers of worshippers”.

The Council of State has also stated that nothing stops a chaplain being appointed who agrees to carry out such activity on a voluntary basis.

For further information:
 CE, 16 Oct. 2013, Garde des Sceaux, ministre de la justice et des libertés c/ m. n…et autres (in French)

  • 15 October 2013: the Observatory of Secularity adopts two opinions on the application of the principle of secularity

The first opinion adopted by the Observatory follows up on the debates generated by the Baby Loup judgment of 19 March 2013. The Court of Cassation (see article below) addressed “the definition and structuring of religion in organisations dedicated to welcoming children”.

The Observatory of Secularity notes that extending the principle of neutrality beyond the public sphere, public services and their agents would risk violating a fundamental right and thus be subject to condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights - or even censure by the Constitutional Council for interfering with the freedom of religion of private individuals engaging in private activity. Justifying this extension of the principle of neutrality to childcare organisations on the grounds of the “vulnerability” of the children also encounters the difficulty - even impossibility - of precisely defining the concept. The Observatory also recalls that “secularity is not an opinion or a belief, but a common value” and that the notion of “organisation with a secular ethos” cannot be used.

The Observatory suggested the Baby Loup crèche “modify its house rules to clarify the means for meeting the self-assigned objectives of equality of all children and parents and refusing any distinction - political or denominational - by implementing restrictions to freedom of religious expression that are justified by aims specific to its activity and proportionate to these objectives”. It could also opt for a plan to delegate the public service that would involve applying the principle of neutrality of public services to its agents.

More generally, the Observatory recommends that the French Government on the one hand enacts an inter-ministerial circular as a reminder of the law in force on the matter and, on the other, re-disseminates the Charter of Secularity in Public Services originally published on 13 April 2007 within the entire public administration.

In its second opinion, the Observatory of Secularity sets out a “reminder of the law” on the content and boundaries of the principle of secularity: the responsibility of public authorities in the promotion and application of this principle, what secularity guarantees and what it prohibits.

For further information:
 Opinion of the Observatory of Secularity on the definition and management of the religious in bodies that provide childcare (in French)
 Reminder of the law on secularity and religion (in French)

  • 10 September 2013: the Court of Appeal in Caen refuses to delete reference to a baptism from the parish register

In 2001, a parishioner who had renounced his Catholic faith asked the parish priest in the commune and the Bishop of Coutances that the phrase “has disowned his baptism by letter dated 31 May 2001” be inscribed on the parish register of baptisms relevant to his name - and this was granted. In 2006, then in 2009, the same person asked for mention of his baptism to be deleted from the register, which this time was refused. In its judgment of 6 October 2011, the High Court in Coutances then gave the order to proceed with the definitive erasure of the applicant’s name from the register of baptisms, considering that “the existence of a mention of this baptism on a register accessible to third parties to the individual concerned, even if the register is not viewable by everyone, is in itself disclosure of the fact, which consequently violates the respect for privacy of the person concerned.”

The defendants appealed this judgment and the Court of Appeal in Caen overturned the decision made by the first judges. It considered that the reference to baptism in the parish register does not in itself infringe the privacy of the person concerned. It is only the disclosure of this information under incorrect conditions that is likely to contravene the provisions of Article 9 of the Civil Code and whether such disclosure brings into disrepute the person involved or generates discriminatory attitudes towards him. In this case, no such behaviour occurred.

The Court points out that persons authorised to consult the register of baptisms are kept secret, the only publicity given to the existence of the baptism having been the action of the person involved. It also considers that there is not in this case violation of the provisions of Law no. 78-17 of 6 July 1978 on the processing of personal data, since the register respects the will of the person concerned by mentioning that he renounced on the sacrament of baptism. The freedom of the person concerned not to belong to the Catholic religion has thus been respected without needing to delete or further correct the document concerned.

For further information:
 TGI Coutances, 6 Oct. 2011, no. 10/00822 (in French)
 CA Caen, 10 Sept. 2013, no. 11/03427 (in French)

  • 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.

  • 15 July 2013: State Council decision on ritual slaughter

Article R. 241-70 of the Rural and Maritime Fishing Code allows for an exception to the obligation to stun animals prior to their slaughter or to being put down, should it be incompatible with the practice of ritual slaughter. An association providing assistance to animals in slaughterhouses (Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoir) had lodged an appeal against the Prime Minister’s refusal to repeal these provisions.

In its decision of 5 July 2013, the Council of State ruled that the provision allowing for the possibility of derogating from the obligation of prior stunning for practising ritual slaughter, which was enacted with the aim of reconciling the objectives of public health policy and equal respect for beliefs and religious traditions, did not violate the principle of secularity. It recalled that the principle of secularity imposes not only equality of all citizens before the law without distinction to religion and with respect for all beliefs, but also that the French Republic guarantees the free exercise of worship.

For further information:
 CE, 5 July 2013, no. 361441, Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoir

  • 27 May 2013: Survey on religion in companies

The Randstad Institute and the Observatory of Religion in Companies (OFRE) have presented the results of a survey on religion in companies conducted between September 2012 and March 2013 and involving 1,300 people (210 human resource executives in private companies, 481 local managers and 679 employees).

Very few cases of conflict

Less than a third (28%) of HR executives surveyed say that they have already faced issues related to religion in their company and only 6% of cases encountered led to deadlock or conflict. Nearly half of HR executives surveyed (41%) think nevertheless that this issue is going to become a problem in the near future.

A large majority (80%) of local managers say they do not feel particular unease on questions related to religious issues. However, they want to have managerial tools to understand these situations: margins for manoeuvre, knowledge of the rules, guidelines to understand the facts and requests etc.

Low impact of religious practice

Regarding the employees themselves, more than two thirds of respondents (68%) say they do not - or only partially - know about the religious practices of their colleagues. When this is the case, they consider either that this practice has no impact on work (75% of cases) or that it has a positive impact (20%), but rarely a negative impact (5%).

Legislative reform deemed not very useful

Following the judgment in the Baby Loup case rendered by the Court of Cassation, several French politicians have requested extending the principle of secularity to the private sphere and a proposal for a bill to this effect must be debated on 6 June at the National Assembly. The survey shows that respondents are rather sceptical about the need to legislate once more. Indeed, the usefulness of a law or a reform of the Labour Code is seen as the solution to improve things for only 12% of HR managers, 2% of managers and 16% of employees. 21% of HR executives, 45% of managers and 27% of employees believe that it would not very useful, 33% of HR executives, 30% of managers and 23% of employees even believe that it would be a damaging solution.

34% of respondents believe that the rule of secularity which applies in public services should apply to private companies. 36% believe that this is not necessary provided that the practice remains discreet and is regulated by the company and 30% feel that everyone is free to do as they please.

For more information, see the Randstad-OFRE press release and an article in the daily newspaper Libération.

  • 9 May 2013: The French Council of the Muslim Faith fixes in advance the dates of Ramadan

The CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith) has adopted a resolution on the establishment of a lunar calendar based on astronomical calculations. For the first time, the dates of Ramadan (month during which Muslims fast during the day) are known in advance: it will begin on 9 July and end on 8 August 2013. This decision will perhaps not be unanimously welcomed: it is based on a theological choice justified here by the CFCM.

Until now, the date of the beginning of the month of Ramadan was decided in France after consultation based on calculation, decisions taken in the Muslim countries and observing the Moon the previous evening; accordingly, it could not be known in advance. Therefore, Muslims could not organise themselves easily and did not all follow the same calendar.

The CFCM has decided henceforth to publish the annual calendar of the dates of the beginning and end of Ramadan holidays and Muslim religious events. This decision will allow Muslims to organise and plan their lives in society (request leave to celebrate festivals or book rooms for community prayers, for example, in advance). Beyond this practical dimension, the measure also seeks to simplify the publication of the administrative circular mentioning the dates of religious feasts, a reference document for granting leave of absence for public sector workers. The CFCM has here provided a first concrete realisation, seeking to encourage public authorities to take account of Islam, while striving to unify Muslims in France.

  • 19 March 2013: Wearing the veil and principle of secularity

The Social Chamber of the Court of Cassation has detailed the boundaries of the principle of secularity in two cases where an employee was dismissed on the grounds that she was wearing an Islamic veil.

In the first case, involving a primary insurance fund, the Court of Cassation held, for the first time, that the principles of neutrality and secularity were applicable to all public services, including when these are undertaken by private law bodies, as in the case in point. Employees are here participating in a public service role and cannot therefore express their religious beliefs using external symbols, in particular clothing. The dismissal of the employee was therefore declared to be founded.

On the other hand, the second case involving the Baby Loup crèche relates to a private association which cannot be considered to be managing a public service. The Court of Cassation issued a reminder that the principle of secularity established by Article 1 of the Constitution does not apply to employees of this crèche. Therefore, this principle cannot be invoked to deprive these employees of the protection that the provisions of the Labour Code afford them. These provide that restrictions to religious freedom must be justified by the nature of the task to be accomplished, respond to an essential and crucial professional requirement and be proportionate to the desired objective. The general clause of secularity and neutrality featuring in the house rules of the Baby Loup association is thus judged to be invalid and the dismissal of the employee was declared null and void.

This decision aroused many reactions among political actors; the government spokesman said that the principle of secularity “must not stop at the door of crèches” and that the government did not rule out legislating on the subject.

For further information (in French):
 Cass. soc., 19 March 2013, no. 11-28.845, Baby Loup
 Cass. Soc., 19 March 2013, no. 12-11.690, Caisse primaire d’assurance maladie de Seine-Saint-Denis

  • 5 March 2013: Full veil and the ban on concealing one’s face in public

The Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation ruled for the first time, in two cases, on Law no. 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010, forbidding the concealment of the face in public.

Both cases involved a woman wearing a full veil. The first - very succinct - decision (no. 12-82.852), condemned a misinterpretation by the previous judge of the notion of public space as it follows in law. Indeed, the initial judges had decided that the person be discharged on the grounds that she had been stopped outside the police station and that “it is only at the initiative of the police officers that she entered this public institution, clothed in her veil”. However, as the Court of Cassation recalls, the wearing of the full veil is also to be challenged on public streets.

The interest of the second decision (no. 12-80.891) lies in what it says about the compatibility of the Law of 2010 with the European Convention on Human Rights and, in particular, Article 9 relating to freedom of religion. This time it involved a woman who, face hidden by a veil, had been stopped “in the vicinity of the Élysée Palace, where she had headed in the company of others wearing masks and with journalists”. The Court of Cassation based its decision on Article 9, section 2 which authorises states to apply restrictions on rights and freedoms protected by the Convention for reasons linked to public order, health or public morality, for example. However, according to the High Court, “such is the case of the law prohibiting full concealment of the face in public space in that it seeks to protect public order and safety by requiring that any person moving around in public show their face”.

It should be noted that the Court of Cassation refers in this decision to the classical components of tangible public order that are security and public order, while the debates preceding the adoption of the Law of 11 October 2010 had included the notion of intangible public order, presented in the report of the Council of State of March 2010 and the Decision by the Constitutional Council of 7 October 2010 (no. 2010-613 DC), which referred to minimum core requirements for life in society.

For further information (in French):
- Cass. crim., 5 March 2013, no. 12-82.852
- Cass. crim., 5 March 2013, no. 12-80.891.

  • 21 February 2013: The law on faiths in Alsace-Moselle is backed by the Constitutional Council

A lay association “APPEL” (Association for the Promotion and Expansion of Secularity) filed a priority question of constitutionality (QPC) relating to the remuneration of pastors in Alsace-Moselle, considering that this was contrary to the constitutional principle of secularity. The Constitutional Council acknowledged in its ruling that the French State could continue to pay ministers of worship: as the drafters of the constitutions of 1946 and 1958 did not call into question the provisions on applicable faiths in these départements, the latter are consistent with the Constitution. “The exception from the Concordat” is here upheld and strengthened.

For further information, see La Croix (in French).

D 10 December 2013   

Spring 2012

7 November 2012: Draft bill on marriage for same-sex couples: reactions of the religious authorities
A draft bill to open up marriage and adoption to same-sex couples was presented before the (...)

  • 7 November 2012: Draft bill on marriage for same-sex couples: reactions of the religious authorities

A draft bill to open up marriage and adoption to same-sex couples was presented before the Council of Ministers on 7 November 2012 and ought to be considered by parliament during the first quarter of 2013. The draft legislation provides for inserting into the Civil Code an article 143 which reads as follows: "Marriage is contracted between two persons of different sex or the same sex."
The rights and obligations attached to marriage would become identical for homosexual and heterosexual couples. One of the major components of the reform concerns, for example, acknowledgement of the parent-child relationship, adoption henceforth being open to couples of the same sex.

A survey by IFOP published in October 2012 shows that French public opinion is broadly in favour of marriage for homosexual couples (65% of respondents), but more divided on the issue of the right to adoption for same-sex couples (52%).

For their part, religious authorities have spoken out in order to open up the debate and present their stance on the subject:

 Note by the Family and Society Council (Conseil Famille et Société) and the Conference of Bishops of France (Catholic Church). Opening up marriage to same-sex couples? Let’s open up the debate!
"An evolution in family law is always possible. But rather than giving in to pressure from various groups, France would be doing the right thing in creating true social debate and seeking an original solution which recognizes the request for recognition made by homosexual people without threatening the anthropological foundations of society."

 Statement by the Council of the Protestant Federation of France about "marriage for all"
"Whilst encouraging its members to respectfully welcome homosexual people, the Protestant Federation of France - without contesting the government’s legislative responsibilities - considers that the current project of "marriage for all" perturbs social symbolism and does not favour the structuring of the family. It is not an issue of morality here, but one of anthropology and symbols."

 Press release by the National Council of Evangelical Churches of France (CNEF), Draft bill on marriage and adoption: the CNEF appeals to parliamentarians
"If such a reform were to see the light of day, it would allow the emergence of a disconnected society, symbolically and practically, from natural anthropological and biological realities.’’ And it would commit future generations, i.e. the nation’s future. The CNEF is also requesting a general assembly and is calling on parliamentarians of all political persuasions to take account of what is at stake and not to legislate hastily or under pressure from one minority."

 Press release by the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France (AEOF)
"(…) the traditional and fundamental notion of marriage - with its own terminology - must be preserved, in order to mark a clear distinction between civil union and the vocation of the heterosexual couple."

 Essay by Gilles Bernheim, Chief Rabbi of France, Gay marriage, gay parenting and adoption: what we often forget to say (Mariage homosexuel, homoparentalité et adoption : Ce que l’on oublie souvent de dire)

 Interview in the Le Monde newspaper with Joël Mergui, President of the Jewish Central Consistory of France

 Stance taken by the French Council of the Muslim Faith: About the draft legislation "marriage for all"
"The number of homosexual couples affected by this draft bill is very small, so we are wondering about the desirability of introducing, via its adoption, a major evolution in life in society with the risk of igniting passionate, divisive debate at a time when we need to concentrate efforts on the priorities and challenges facing our country at this difficult time of major economic and social crisis."

  • 5 July 2012: France must repay 4.6 million euros to the French branch of the Jehovah’s witnesses

In 1995, the French branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses association was subject to a tax audit and was summoned to declare the donations that it had received from 1993 to 1996. In May 1998, the association was notified of arrears amounting to around 45 million euros (about 23 million euros principal and 22 million euros in penalties and interest for late payment).

In its judgment of 30 June 2011 (no. 8916/05), the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this taxation had effectively cut off the vital resources of the association, which was no longer able to guarantee in concrete terms that their followers could practise their religion freely. Moreover, the Court observed that the application of tax law (here Article 757 of the General Tax Code) had made taxation of manual donations dependent on performing tax audits, which necessarily involved an element of randomness and therefore unpredictability in applying the tax law: there was therefore "non-statutory" interference in exercising rights guaranteed by Article 9 of the Convention.

Under Article 41 of the Convention, the applicant filed a claim for just satisfaction pursuant to which (judgment of 5 July 2012) the Court said that the French State must reimburse the applicant, within three months from the day on which the judgment became final, the amount unduly paid to the Public Treasury, i.e. 4,590,295 euros plus 55,000 euros costs.

D 3 December 2012   


31 May 2011: Passing a parliamentary resolution on the principles of secularity and religious freedom
The debate on secularity and Islam launched by the UMP (the party of the presidential (...)

  • 31 May 2011: Passing a parliamentary resolution on the principles of secularity and religious freedom

The debate on secularity and Islam launched by the UMP (the party of the presidential majority) ended with the adoption of resolution passed by the National Assembly on 31 May, a text expressing intention, but not-legally binding, seeking to reaffirm "the commitment to respecting the principles of secularity and religious freedom". The text was voted on only by members of the majority, with opposition MPs challenging it on several points.
This resolution provides for the development of a code of secularity and religious freedom, comprising all the applicable legal texts and to be established by the government. It also wishes for the principle of secularity to be extended to all private bodies in the social, medical-social or nursery-care sectors entrusted with missions of public service or of general interest, as well as to everyone working in collaboration with a public service. The latter is mainly aimed at mothers wearing veils who accompany school trips, and an inter-ministerial group will shortly make proposals on the matter. It also expresses the wish for a certain neutrality in religious matters to be imposed in private companies.

  • 30 May 2011: Jehovah’s Witnesses chaplains must be approved for prisons

Several appeals have been lodged with the administrative courts against the refusal of prison authorities to grant the status of prison chaplain to ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses and, for the first time, an administrative court of appeal has delivered three different verdicts on the matter.
On 30 May 2011, the Administrative Appeal Court in Paris summoned the prison administration to conduct, within two months, a review of applications for approval by Jehovah’s witnesses or be fined 100 Euros per day overdue. The court in fact upheld the previous ruling that had annulled the refusal by stating it was not based on grounds of public policy and further found that "no statutory or regulatory conditions determine the designation of a chaplain for a minimum number of inmates likely to seek spiritual assistance; and that by therefore claiming in a general way - as is obvious from the ministerial appeal - that there were insufficient numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses inmates in order to refuse to issue an authorisation to Mr. A to be a chaplain, the reasoning by the Director of Interregional Prison Services in Paris did not legally justify such a decision".
The Chancellery has announced that it has decided to appeal to the Council of State against the decision.

See the text of décision N° 10PA03618 of 30 May 2011.

  • 11 April 2011: Entry into force of the law banning the wearing of the full veil in public spaces

Law no. 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010 forbidding the concealment of the face in public took effect as of 11 April 2011. A circular published in the Official Journal of Thursday, 3 March 2011 specifies the terms and conditions of application of this ban (scope of application of the law, how to proceed in public services, information for the public).
The government at that time launched an information campaign (posters, website) entitled: "La République se vit à visage découvert", translated word to word means "the Republic lives by faces uncovered".

  • 5 April 2011: UMP convention on secularity

After several weeks of controversy, the UMP - party of the presidential majority - gave up on the idea of a broad national debate and, on 5 April 2011, held a simple convention on "Secularity for a better coexistence" in order to address particularly the issue of Islam and its compatibility with the laws of the Republic.

Representatives from the six main religions (Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist) united within the Conference of Religious Leaders in France (CRCF) expressed in a public forum their reservations about the desirability of such a debate and the "harmful confusion" between political agenda and electoral appointments that it could cause (the next presidential elections are scheduled for 2012).

At the end of its convention, the UMP presented "26 proposals for a better coexistence", including notably the creation of a "Code of secularity and religious freedom", containing all the legislative and regulatory texts and case law on the principle of secularity; the desire to extend the requirements of neutrality and secularity to private social or medical-social bodies, as well as to casual public service employees; or even encouraging the development of the creation of denominational squares in cemeteries.

D 29 June 2011   


11 October 2010: Promulgation of the law banning wearing of the full veil in public
Law No. 2010-1192 (in French) of 11 October 2010 banning concealment of the face in public has been (...)

  • 11 October 2010: Promulgation of the law banning wearing of the full veil in public

Law No. 2010-1192 (in French) of 11 October 2010 banning concealment of the face in public has been published in the Official Journal.
Following the work of the fact-finding mission on the practice of wearing the full veil on national territory (see Current debates Automn 2009), this law aimed to ban the full veil in all public places (public roads, places open to the public and places assigned to a public service).
Failure to comply with this ban will be punished by a fine of up to 150 euros, which can be supplemented or replaced by the obligation to undertake a citizenship course.
The law also punishes anyone imposing on one or more other persons “that they conceal their face because of their gender, whether by using threats, violence, coercion, abuse of authority or power”. They risk one year imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 euros.

  • 16 July 2010: Mobilisation of Christian associations against a new immigration bill

46 organisations, movements, associations, Christian services or those of Christian inspiration were mobilised alongside other members of civil society against a draft bill on immigration, integration and nationality being debated in the National Assembly. This collective of Christian associations and organisations initiated by ACAT-France, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, FEP (Federation of Protestant Mutual Aid), Cimade (an Ecumenical mutual aid service), Catholic relief services and the SNPM (National Service for the Pastoral Care of migrants) considered that the new bill introduced by the Minister for Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Solidarity-based Development would, if passed in its current form, seriously infringe the rights of foreigners in France.
An appeal was broadcast, accompanied by the message: "Let us not weaken foreigners’ rights".
Pastor Claude Baty, President of the Protestant Federation of France, also provided his support for the campaign. As for the Catholic Church, the bishops of the Commission for the Universal Mission of the Church also issued a déclaration, listing five points that "question the conscience" of the bishops who had signed it.

  • 6 July 2010: Bill forbidding the concealment of the face in public

A bill banning the concealment of the face in public space has been under discussion at the National Assembly since 6 July 2010. Following the work of the fact-finding mission on the practice of the wearing of the full veil on the national territory (see current debates Autumn 2009), this bill aims to ban the full veil in all public spaces (streets, places open to the public and places assigned to a public service).
Failure to comply with this ban will be sanctioned by a fine of up to 150 Euros, which can be supplemented or replaced by the requirement to take a course in citizenship.
The bill also punishes, for infringements of human dignity, compelling a person on account of gender to cover his or her face (one year imprisonment and fine of 15,000 Euros).

  • 30 March 2010: Study on the legal options for a ban on the wearing of the full veil

In his letter of 29 January 2010, the Prime Minister entrusted the Council of State with the mission of studying "legal solutions enabling the implementation of a ban on the wearing of the full veil", which was to be "the broadest and most effective [ban] possible".
The Council of State submitted its study to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, 30 March 2010:
 Firstly, it considered that any absolute, blanket ban on wearing the full veil as such would be open to legal challenge, being without unquestionable legal foundation.
 It also examined the possibility of a ban on concealing the face, regardless of the dress adopted. Even in this broader perspective, a ban in all public areas would still face serious legal obstacles in view of rights and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution and conventions.
 On the other hand, the Council of State believed that public safety and the fight against fraud, reinforced by the requirements of certain public services, would be enough to justify the requirements of keeping one’s face uncovered, whether in certain places or to perform certain procedures.

The Minister of the Interior, Brice Hortefeux, said it was necessary to go "as far as possible towards a general ban on the full veil, while respecting general principles of law" and specified that the government "will introduce a bill which is as proactive as possible".

  • 26 January 2010: Wearing the full veil and republican values

Created in July 2009, the parliamentary fact-finding mission on the practice of wearing the full veil on the national territory submitted its report on 26 January 2010.
The report recommends the passing of a resolution by the National Assembly reaffirming republican values and condemning as contrary to these values the practice of wearing the full veil. In order to "strengthen public servants", it recommends "giving a legal basis to the requirement for faces not to be concealed throughout the whole of public services and public transport".
Regarding a general ban in law, "the mission can only state that, as much within itself as within the political parties represented in Parliament, there is no unanimity - at least for now - in favour of the adoption in law of a general, blanket ban of the full veil in public".

So as to quickly submit to Parliament a bill on this issue, the Prime Minister, François Fillon, asked the Council of State to study "the legal solutions for achieving a ban on wearing the full veil that [he] wants to be the broadest and most effective possible".

Eric Besson, Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Solidarity Development also indicated on Tuesday 2 February that he had countersigned and transmitted to the Prime Minister a draft decree denying the acquisition of French nationality to a man who, according to the release, "imposed on his wife the wearing of the full veil" - a measure that "deprives the freedom to come and go with face uncovered and rejects the principles of secularity and equality between men and women". The Prime Minister said he would sign the decree following advice from the Council of State.

For further information, see :
 The rapport of the parliamentary fact-finding mission on the practice of wearing the full veil on the national territory
 The letter du premier ministre demandant au Conseil d’Etat d’étudier les solutions juridiques pour interdir le port du voile intégral
 The press release from the Minister of Immigration on the denial of naturalisation

D 15 November 2010   


Autumn 2009: A fact-finding mission on the practice of wearing the burqa
As in other European countries, the wearing of the burqa in public places by some women is beginning to generate debate (...)

  • Autumn 2009: A fact-finding mission on the practice of wearing the burqa

As in other European countries, the wearing of the burqa in public places by some women is beginning to generate debate in France.
On the initiative of André Gérin, Member of Parliament and Mayor of Vénissieux (a suburb of Lyon), a parliamentary commission of 32 MPs was appointed in July 2009 to establish the current situation with regard to the wearing of the burqa in France. Currently it is arranging hearings and should conclude its work in December 2009, indicating whether it considers it necessary to legislate on this matter.
Two recent memoranda from the Home Office attempted to estimate the number of women in France wearing the full veil. One estimated the number to be 367 (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence), the other, 2000 (Sub-Directorate of General Intelligence).

For more information: see the work of the Mission d’information on the website of the National Assembly.

  • 12 June 2009: New Muslim associations emerge to confront the CFCM

12th June 2009 saw the launch of the National Lay Federation of Citizens of Muslim persuasion, in short, Mosaïc. Born from an association created in Nice in 2007, it brings together around forty associations and aims to achieve “cultural, secular and apolitical” representation within public bodies for “citizens of Arab-Muslim persuasion”.
Moreover, on 10th June, a conference of French imams was launched - an initiative taken by the imam of Drancy, Hasan Chalghoumi, to highlight “inter-religious dialogue and promote an open Islam and the monitoring of imams”.
These initiatives aim to create a new way for the Muslim community to be represented. They are bearing fruit, while the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), established by the State in 2002, is barely functioning, primarily as a result of internal disputes.

For further information, see the website of the Mosaïc association.

  • 16 April 2009: Agreement with the Holy See on the recognition of diplomas of Catholic schools (continued)

Publication in the Official Journal of decree No. 2009-427 of 16 th April 2009 promulgating the agreement between the French Republic and the Holy See on the recognition of degrees and diplomas in higher education.
This agreement, in the manner set forth in its Supplementary Protocol, has as its objective:
 Mutual recognition of periods of study, degrees and diplomas of higher education awarded by competent authorities of either Party, for the purpose of pursuing studies to the same level or to a higher level, in institutions of the other Party that deliver a higher level of education;
 Readability of degrees and diplomas of higher education awarded under the authority of one Party by a competent authority of the other Party.

See also below : Current Debates - 2008

  • 10 April 2009: HALDE legal opinion on religious expression in the workplace

On Friday, 10th April 2009, the HALDE (High Authority for the Struggle against Discrimination and for Equality) made public a legal opinion deliberated by its Council as well as the accompanying discussion, which covers all applicable provisions relating to religious expression in the workplace, whether derived from the Constitution, European law, labour or case law.

Read the legal opinion of the HALDE.

  • 10 April 2009: Questions on the religious practices of the candidate at an oral examination for the police

In a decision dated 10th April 2009, the Council of State annulled the results of an internal competitive examination for the national police, as the result of a distinction made by the jury relating to the applicant’s origins and his religious opinions.
The Council of State considered that the applicant provided precise elements that the administration did not seriously contest, according to which, members of the jury had raised questions about his origins and the religious practices of both himself and his wife. It held that such issues were unrelated to the criteria allowing a jury to assess the suitability of a candidate and constituted a distinction, i.e. discrimination, between state officials, which is prohibited by Article 6 of the law of 13th July, 1983 on the rights and obligations of civil servants.

Read the decision : Council of State, 10th April 2009, No. 311888.

D 15 December 2009   


18 December 2008: Agreement with the Holy See on the recognition of diplomas of Catholic schools
On 18th December 2008, Mr. Bernard Kouchner, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Mgr (...)

  • 18 December 2008: Agreement with the Holy See on the recognition of diplomas of Catholic schools

On 18th December 2008, Mr. Bernard Kouchner, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Mgr Dominique Mamberti, Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, signed an agreement on the recognition of degrees and diplomas in higher education between France and the Holy See.
This agreement is in particular intended to recognise the value of canonical degrees and diplomas (theology, philosophy, canon law) as well as non-religious diplomas issued by institutions of Catholic higher education recognised by the Holy See.
Until now, the State held the monopoly on conferring university degrees and did not recognise diplomas issued by private institutions. Catholic schools who wanted to prepare their students for a state diploma either had to enter into a contract with a public university or ask to appoint a public board to allow their students to undergo the necessary checks to obtain their degree.
This new agreement should allow the recognition of diplomas awarded by the 5 Catholic institutions or universities of Paris, Lyon, Lille, Toulouse, Angers as well as Centre Sèvres Jesuit Faculty in Paris and the Cathedral School, whose faculties of theology are recognised by the Holy See.
The agreement will be applicable once duly ratified, but many voices are already criticising this reform, which is seen as a challenge to the laïcité of the state and of French universities.

  • 15 September: Burqa and language training in the host contract and integration

The High Authority for the Struggle against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE) has received a request for a legal opinion on the compatibility of the ban on wearing the burqa with the principle of non-discrimination in the context of language training required under the Integration and Welcome Contract (CAI). Basing its deliberations on jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights and on educational requirements for teaching languages, the High Authority decided on 15th September 2008, that the requirement for those undertaking language training under the Contract to remove the burqa or niqab does constitute a restriction in accordance with obligations under Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 2 of Protocol No.1.

Read the text of the HALDE deliberation (in French).

  • 27 June 2008 : The Council of State confirmed its decision to deny French citizenship to a Moroccan woman

On 16th May 2005, the French government refused a Moroccan woman’s request to acquire French nationality. Their decision was based on the fact that she had not assimilated into society: "It is clear from the evidence in this case that Mrs M.’s behaviour in public constitutes an extreme manner of practising her religion and is incompatible with the core values of the French community, in particular, the principle of gender equality, and that she cannot therefore be regarded as fulfilling the condition of assimilation."
The Council of State confirmed this decision in a ruling dated 27th June 2008. It notes that Mrs. M. appeared repeatedly for interviews in the prefecture "covered by the garment worn by women in the Arabian peninsula" (the niqab), a piece of clothing that she only started wearing after her arrival in France and at her husband’s request. The Council of State decided that it was clear from her statements that "Mrs. M. has not integrated the values of French society and particularly that of gender equality. She lives in total submission to the men in her family, shown as much in the garment she wears as in the organisation of her daily life (...). "

Source: EC, 27th June 2008, app. n° 286798, Conclusions of the Government Commissioner.

  • 8 June 2008: Election of the French Council of the Muslim Faith

Elections for the renewal of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) were held on Sunday, 8th June 2008. 4862 delegates from 1039 mosques were registered to vote. The turnout was 81% despite the call from the Federation of the Great Mosque of Paris to boycott proceedings; they challenged the appointment of delegates (calculated according to the surface area of places of worship).
The poll was intended to elect the executives of 25 regional councils of the Muslim faith and the Board of Directors of the CFCM. The Muslim Assembly in France (RMF), consisting mainly of Muslims of Moroccan origin came first with 43.24% of votes (20 seats of the 41 that make up the board), followed by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF) with 30.23% (13 seats), the Coordination Committee of Turkish Muslims of France (CCMTF) with 12.73% (4 seats); 3 seats went to independent candidates and one to the National Federation of French Muslims. These representatives will then elect the executive board and president of the CFCM on 22nd June.
Paralysed by rivalries between different federations, the CFCM was created in 2003 and has so far done little to advance matters as part of its responsibility for organising the Muslim faith (training of imams, construction of sites of worship, separation of burial areas in cemeteries, ritual slaughter ...).

(Source : AFP)

D 31 December 2008   


May 2007: HALDE reminder about the conditions for applying the principle of secularity
Xavier Darcos, Minister for Education, has brought to mind that "the process of selecting parents who are (...)

  • May 2007: HALDE reminder about the conditions for applying the principle of secularity

Xavier Darcos, Minister for Education, has brought to mind that "the process of selecting parents who are to be asked to accompany school trips, should take place without discrimination".
This statement came after deliberations by the High Authority for the Struggle Against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE) on 14th May 2007 that considered that "a refusal in principle to allow students’ mothers who wear a headscarf" to participate in school trips is "contrary to provisions prohibiting religious discrimination."
The HALDE recalls that the law of 15th March 2004 on wearing religious symbols in schools does not apply to parents and that "religious freedom cannot be restricted in ways not prescribed by the law ... " in accordance with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

See the text of the HALDE resolution.

  • March 2007: Religious influence on politics

In the perspective of the upcoming presidential elections in France, many are interested in the influence religious affiliations might have with regard to voting intentions.
In March 2007, the French Institute for Public Opinion (IFOP) published, in Réforme newspaper, a survey onvoting intentions of Protestants. It is observable that Protestants would vote for Nicholas Sarkozy (34% over 28% of voting intentions) or for François Bayrou (27% over 24%) compared to the overall French population. They would vote less for Jean-Marie Le Pen (8% over 13%).
In February 2007, the IFPO also published, in La Croix newspaper, a survey on voting intentions of Catholics. It is not surprising to observe that 51% of Catholics are set to vote for the right wing while there 62% of practicing Catholics holding the same opinion. Jean-Marie Le Pen and Philippe de Villiers (ultra right wing) would both obtain more than 20% of votes from practicing Catholics. On the contrary, François Bayrou (UDF) would obtain only 19% of the voting intentions of Catholics and 18% of practicing Catholics.
In December 2006, the institute had already released a publication analysing the political orientation of the Muslims in France. The Muslims are generally inclined to left wing compared to the rest of the French population. An escalating number of Muslims who claim to be voting for the Socialist Party has been observed (rising from 45% to 54 % between 2005 and 2006).
In June 2006, IFPO had also published, in Le Figaro newspaper, a more general political study on the political orientation of the Jews in France.

  • March 2007: Opening of a Muslim high school

On 5 March 2007, after months of administrative and legal negotiations, "Al-Kindi", a private Muslim high school opened its doors to about 20 GCSE students in Décines, a suburban area in Lyon. The aim is to accommodate 150 pupils the next academic year beginning in September 2007.
After "Réussite" secondary school in Auberviliers (near Paris) and "Averroès" high school in Lille, "Al-Kindi" becomes the third private Muslim establishment of secondary education in metropolitan France. Meanwhile, a grant-aided Muslim primary school exists since 1990 in La Réunion (the French overseas department).

D 30 May 2007   


20 September 2006: A report on adaptation of right to worship
The Commission of legal reflection on the relationship between religion and the state presided by Professor Jean-Pierre Machelon (...)

  • 20 September 2006: A report on adaptation of right to worship

The Commission of legal reflection on the relationship between religion and the state presided by Professor Jean-Pierre Machelon has submitted its report to the Ministry of Interior on 20 September 2006.
The Commission recommends that the French law on religion be updated in order to adapt it to the new religious phenomenon, in particular, to Islam and evangelical Christianity which are recently gaining ground. A number of propositions were made, in particular:

 facilitate for the construction of new places of worship by giving towns and authorities necessary aid for such work.
 Adjust the status of cultural association by expanding its social objective in order to carry out activities which are mainly and not exclusively cultural.
 Better respond to the expectation of providing prayer places at the cemeteries, giving priority, for example, to the creation of private cemeteries.
 In Alsace-Moselle, a concordat has to be established with new religions in particular with Islam. The setting up of an educational system for Muslim religious personnel could be the first step towards this "recognition".

For more information: The report of the Commission on legal reflection on the relationship of religions and the state.

  • 24 April 2006: French Churches speak against the immigration bill

About 50 Christian organisations issued on Monday 24 April, their opinion on the draft bill proposing changes to the law on the entry and stay of foreigners in France.
These organisations condemned measures which would seem to make it harder for foreigners to be issued residence permits and well as be reunited with family or granted the right of asylum.

For additional information, see : Campagne "Ne transigeons pas avec le droit de l’étranger" (in French).

D 4 October 2006   


21 March 2005 : Creation of a Foundation to Fund Islam in France
On 21 March, the minister of the interior and the presidents of the four major French Muslim federations signed the statutes of (...)

  • 21 March 2005 : Creation of a Foundation to Fund Islam in France

On 21 March, the minister of the interior and the presidents of the four major French Muslim federations signed the statutes of the "Foundation for the Works of Islam in France".
This foundation is responsible for collecting donations (private individuals, companies, foreign donors) and redistributes the funds in order to finance the construction and renovation of places of worship, continue the training of imams and support the functioning of the French Muslim Council.

For more information: consult the communiqué on the website of the Ministry of the Interior.

  • 16 March 2005 : The creation of a Muslim chaplaincy in the French army

An order dated 16 March 2005 requires the Army Chief of Staff to have a Muslim head chaplain appointed by the Minister of defence, along with the three existing head chaplains (Catholic, Protestant and Jewish).
The head chaplains nominate and manage the military chaplains of their own religious groups. This therefore marked the creation of a Muslim military chaplaincy.

D 6 April 2005   


28 November: Training Imams
The training programmes for Imams that are available as of the start of the 2005-2006 school year are made up of two parts. First, a theological programme that is (...)

  • 28 November: Training Imams

The training programmes for Imams that are available as of the start of the 2005-2006 school year are made up of two parts. First, a theological programme that is not under the authority of the State at the already existing religious institutes and second, a high-level, national, secular programme in a university setting. It is the second part that the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Education have developed.
This general training would be focused on knowledge of French society and would be a two or three-year programme in classical university courses including history, law or French.

Source: Le Monde, 28-11-04

  • October: 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 14 December 2004   


Elections for the French Muslim Council on 6 and 13 April 2003.

Elections for the French Muslim Council on 6 and 13 April 2003.

D 24 April 2003   

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