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Poll shows French back veil ban in private sector

3 min

A week after France’s top court ruled that a woman was wrongfully fired from a private nursery school for refusing to remove her Islamic veil, a new poll shows a majority of French people support a ban of all religious signs in private workplaces.


The debate over the Islamic veil in France is back, but this time it’s taken on a new twist. Instead of only banning religious signs in public institutions, a new study has found that the vast majority of French people support the idea of a law that applies to the private sector as well.

The survey, which was conducted by French marketing and opinion centre BVA and published in the daily “Le Parisien” on Monday, found that 86 percent of French people back introducing legislation that would ban “all signs of religious or political affiliation” in private schools and nurseries. According to the same poll, 83 percent support imposing a law making it illegal in all privately-owned businesses.

The study comes nearly a week after France’s top court ruled that a woman had been wrongly dismissed from her position at a private nursery school in Chanteloup-les-Vignes, just west of the capital Paris, for refusing to take off her veil while at work.

The woman, Fatima Afif, was fired from her job at the Baby Loup nursery school on December 19, 2008 on the grounds of “serious misconduct”. Afif challenged the school’s decision, but lost in court in 2010, and then again in appeals the following year. Both rulings, however, were overturned last week after the country’s highest court found that Afif’s dismissal amounted to “religious discrimination”.

In a summary of its decision, the court explained that because Baby Loup was a private institution whose staff did not provide a public service, it was not within its rights to fire Afif for refusing to remove her veil. It also ordered the nursery school to pay a fine of 2,500 euros to its former employee.

“Restrictions on religious freedom must be justified by and proportionate to the nature of the work, as well as respond to an essential professional need,” the court’s ruling read. “If these requirements are not met, an employee’s dismissal for serious misconduct on the basis that he violated the provisions of this clause constitutes religious discrimination, and therefore must be declared void.”

The court’s move to rule against Baby Loup caused an immediate outcry. In an unorthodox move, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls digressed during question time at the National Assembly to express his “regret” over the decision.

The French obsession with the Islamic veil in all its forms is partly rooted in the country’s attachment to secularism. Over the past decade, France has passed a number of controversial laws cracking down on religious symbols in public areas. In 2004, the government forbade all “conspicuous signs of religion” in public schools. In 2011, it adopted what is popularly known as the “burqa ban” – legislation making it illegal to wear full-face coverings, such as the full Islamic veil or niqab, in public spaces.

While the US and other nations have criticised France in the past over its tough laws, the country has largely dismissed such reproach in the name of its deeply entrenched secularist values.

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