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French schools to get ‘secularism charter’

Photo: AFP

France’s new ‘secularism charter’, which all state schools will be required to display, is to be unveiled Monday and is expected to remind students that they cannot object to the school’s curriculum for religious reasons.

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France’s first “secularism charter” for schools is to be revealed by the country’s Education Minister Vincent Peillon on Monday.

Although the precise details of the charter’s content are not yet known, it is expected to remind pupils of the strict secularist principles of France’s education system and make clear that they are not allowed to miss certain classes for religious reasons.

All public schools in France will be required to display the document from Monday onwards.

Peillon said the charter would help to instill the “values of the Republic” in the country’s young people, in an interview with French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday.

“The first article of our constitution states that the Republic is indivisible, democratic, social and secular,” he said.

“The school must teach these values, explain their meaning, remember their history. Because if we do not teach them, do not be surprised if they were misunderstood or even ignored,” he added.

A draft version of the charter was published online by French education news site Le Café Pédagogique in July.  It contained a total of 17 paragraphs outlining the education system’s secularist principles and how these affect students.

Paragraph 4, for example, states: "Secularism guarantees freedom of conscience for all. Everyone is free to believe or not to believe. It allows the free expression of his beliefs, respecting those of others within the limits of public order."

Another paragraph stipulates that: “No student may invoke religious or political convictions to challenge a teacher’s right to teach certain parts of the curriculum."

French schools already have strict secularism rules, including a ban on wearing religious clothing or symbols.

Peillon has also said he wants to introduce compulsory classes on “secular morality” later this year.

However, some have questioned whether such measures stigmatise religion and France’s Muslim minority in particular, something Peillon strongly denies.

Asked by the Journal du Dimanche if the new charter conceals a certain degree of Islamophobia, his reply was a firm “Absolutely not!”

“Secularism is not against any religion,” he said. “It provides a protected and neutral space in which to give everyone, regardless of religion, regardless of their social or geographical origin, the means to choose and build a life.”

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