Institute Concerned by French Government Attempts to Impose Secularism. PCP. Report
02 Jul 2003
Washington, D.C. - July 4. The Institute on Religion and Public Policy is concerned by a new law proposed in France to ban Muslim veils and other religious symbols in public schools and buildings if people do not respect the republic's secular policies.
Stepping into a growing debate about the veils, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said he hoped that France's secular tradition - which demands a strict separation between the state and all religions - was strong enough to win respect by all residents.
"But if there is not a consensus, especially on symbols and behaviour linked to religion in public facilities, I will not hesitate to enforce respect for secularism by law," he told a meeting of French and foreign Freemasons.
"The right of a citizen to practice their beliefs - in this case with the wearing of a religious veil - is a fundamental right ensconced in international law and in international agreements, as well as a cornerstone of a democratic society," commented Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski. "A legislative imposition of secularism on religious believers in France is religious discrimination in its most dangerous form."
Several conservative legislators have called for an "anti-veil law" but others hesitate because of the ramifications it could have, such as banning yarmulkes for Jewish boys or necklaces with a cross for Christian girls.
"Over the last few years policymakers in France have moved ahead with dangerous legislative trends that limit significantly the rights of religious believers," Mr. Grieboski continued. "From the establishment of a Parliamentary Sect List in 1996 which arbitrarily named hundreds of groups as 'dangerous sects and cults' to the passage in 2001 of the About/Pickard Law entitled, 'To reinforce the prevention and repression of groups of a sectarian nature,' which aims to restrict the free expression, growth, and development of religious groups, the contemporary history of the French Government toward the rights of religious believers is less than encouraging."
About five million of France's 60 million population are Muslims, with roughly half of them immigrants and half born in France. They made up Europe's largest Muslim community and the second religion in France after Roman Catholicism.
No exact statistics exist because France's secular tradition means the national census forms cannot ask about religion.