Baby Loup’s return to the court of appeals: towards what secularism?

June 16, 2014

On June 16 the Court of Appeals, comprised of eighteen judges, reconvened to discuss the 2008 dismissal of Fatima Afif, an employee at the Baby Loup crèche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes. The court’s decision is previewed for the end of the month. The retrial comes at a time of heightened religious tensions linked to the growing fear of radical Islam. The case’s decision could “redefine the conditions of secularism’s application” in France.

Attorney General Jean-Claude Marin has pushed to abandon the crèche’s controversial decision to prosecute Madam Afif, but to uphold her dismissal for gross misconduct. The case’s senior judge justifies her dismissal on the grounds that she “remained in the space after her legal suspension and exhibited aggressive behavior.”

Madame Afif’s Lawyer Claire Waquet stated that the employee was a victim of “religious discrimination,” and had previously won the Supreme Court’s support, which had effectively annulled Afif’s dismissal. The Supreme Court’s decision evoked the emotion of many politicians and intellectuals and led to the Court of Appeal’s decision to reestablish her dismissal in November 2013. “That her employers had wanted to fire her isn’t the problem, it’s how they fired her that shocks me. One doesn’t fire someone for misconduct and even less so for gross misconduct, without warning and without compensatory damages, someone who exercises their freedom of belief.”

The Baby Loup affair has caused “the secularists to mobilize.” Jeannette Bougrab, president of HALDE, a government association that advocates for equality and an end to discrimination, also showed her support for the crèche against the advice of her institution. Maneul Valls, a member of the National Assembly, called the conflict a “challenge to secularism.”

In September 2013 Francois Hollande spoke of a potential law pertaining to “private enterprises that assures a mission of childcare.” The president charged the “Observatoire de la laïcité,” a government organization tasked with monitoring secularism’s application, with proposing the law. The commission dismissed the option of a new law pertaining to secularism’s application but made actionable recommendations to the crèche. Supporters of the crèche were disappointed with the commission’s decision and many wonder if the judges will be swayed by public opinion. A recent BVA survey states that 80% are in favor of new legislation.

The affair’s long spectacle in the public eye has taken its toll on the citizens of Chanteloup-les-Vignes. Baby Loup has been replaced by another crèche, and citizens complain that the city has received negative publicity in recent years. According to the Nouvel Observateur the crèche has reopened in a nearby town and Fatima Afif has returned to her city after seeking refuge in Morocco. Current deliberations center on the question: “The history of French secularism continues to be written. But in what sense?”

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