“The 2004 law on the veil poses insurmountable difficulties”

“The 2004 law on the veil poses insurmountable difficulties”

The law of March 15, 2004 certainly marks a major turning point in the legal definition of French secularism. While since the law of separation of Churches and State of 1905, the duty of “secular reserve” applies first and essentially to the State itself and to its representatives among citizens, the latter now extends to a certain category of users of public services: students in public primary and secondary education.

From the point of view of fundamental freedoms, this extension of the requirement of neutrality in the display of religious beliefs firstly constitutes an exceptional, but targeted, limit to the right to freedom of religion and belief guaranteed by major texts. international human rights standards ratified by France. The Council of State, guardian of freedoms, questioned about veiled students, still considered in 1989 that freedom of conscience “recognized to students includes for them the right to express and manifest their religious beliefs within educational establishments, with respect for pluralism and the freedom of others, and without harm to the activities of teaching, the content of programs and the obligation of attendance. »

This translates into the idea that if students respect their obligations as users of the school and refrain from any proselytism, the wearing of religious symbols cannot, therefore, be prohibited to them even in the school grounds. Until then, classical secular doctrine was still respected to the letter.

The veil, failure of integration?

Things have gradually evolved following passionate debates in the political and media space regarding the multiplication of the number of young veiled girls in certain schools. The religious sign gradually appeared to some to be a proselytizing tool in itself, and in this respect legitimately condemnable. We then began to analyze this phenomenon through the prism of the questioning of equality between women and men and the supposed community pressure on the behavior of young Muslim girls.

The veil has therefore now been read as a visual sign of a failure of republican integration and a major challenge to the principle of “living together”. After much delay, parliamentarians, of almost all tendencies, were sensitive to the appeals of the teaching world and thus showed themselves to be concerned about the emerging offensive of fundamentalist circles challenging secular values.

Towards private schools

Certainly, at the start of the school year following the law, the drastic reduction in the number of young veiled girls made people believe that the subject was settled. But at what cost ? Despite the provisions of the law which provided for a preliminary dialogue before any exclusion between the school authorities and the families of recalcitrant young girls, many of them actually left public education. Many were then simply dropped out of school, which did not bode well for their real future emancipation…

Others turned to private schools, in particular those under association contract with the State, which, although participating in the public education service, were nevertheless not subject to the 2004 law. They were then able, thanks to this subterfuge, to keep their veil within the school… This system of double standards obviously undermined the initial project, which was the emancipation of young Muslim girls from their family or community environment…

But, above all, we did not have to wait long for signs other than the veil to appear again in school premises, forcing school leaders to exegesis this sudden multiplication of long black skirts. , bandanas or headbands covering the hair and, even more recently, “abayas” for the 2023 school year.

Two difficulties therefore appear insurmountable: the capacity of officials of a secular state to judge the religious function of this or that attire, while it is also ardently discussed within Muslim bodies. But also, perhaps more fundamentally, to know how far the police on women’s clothing can go in a state that wants to be both liberal and feminist? As we can see, the law of March 15, 2004 did not resolve what it was formulated for and it is likely that this still burning question of religious symbols in schools will still remain unresolved in the years to come.

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