New ‘secularism handbook’ distributed in French schools

L’Express recently acquired the revised “handbook of secularism at school” which was  distributed on May 30 to all heads of school. “It’s a more developed version, more practical and also maybe more…voluntaristic,” than the one distributed under Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. The new version is 82 pages–compared to the 32 page one before it–and covers several topics.

Among other topics, the handbook references those who refuse to shake the hand of a colleague. Focusing on “the refusal of the minimum rules of civility in the school setting,” the handbook evokes, for the first time, this very specific example. A reference to those officials who, in the name of their religious beliefs, refuse any physical contact with a woman. The text cites the legal framework: “No one can avail himself of his religion or beliefs to undermine equality between women and men.”

It is also stipulated that parents of pupils may, when participating in the supervision of a class on a field trip, wear a sign or an outfit showing their religious affiliation, “except if their behavior or their speech translates into a desire for propaganda or proselytism.” Heads of school “may, where circumstances so require, recommend that parents of pupils abstain from manifesting their religious affiliation when they participate, under the responsibility of the school, in the supervision of outings or educational activities.”

A student cannot refuse to participate in a school activity (a course, a mandatory school outing, visiting a religious or historical site, a musical or visual arts practice …) on the grounds that it would be contrary to their religious beliefs.

The student’s intention is critical. It was recently ruled in 2017 that a middle schooler’s daily wearing of a dark-colored long skirt and a bandana partially covering his hair should be considered an ostensible manifestation of religious affiliation to the eyes. “In the absence of resolution of the conflict at the end of the dialogue phase, it is up to the head of the institution to initiate proceedings before the Disciplinary Board, which will pronounce a sanction that may go as far as final exclusion from the establishment,” the guide says.




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