Early April, the French Senate started to discuss the Bill aiming at reinforcing the Republican principles (a novlangue expression to talk about the Bill against “separatism”). In the French legislative system, two chambers are in charge : first the National Assembly, then the Senate that can propose amendments, and third a shared reading of the text in plenary session.
That is during the second phase of this process (the examination of the law by the Senate) that the addition of an amendment about hijab ban has has triggered a heated debate both national and international.If adopted, this amendment will prohibit women under the legal age of 18 to wear the headscarf. The amendment concerns the 2010 law on face covering, and extends it to the practice of sports since sport associations have been explicitly targeted by Macron as favoring “separatism”. The French president wants to create a partnership (or rather control) between religious associations and the State, to stop the propagation of non-republican values. Religious associations would have to sign a “chart of secularism” and could be shutdown in case of “misconduct” or breach of this “secular pact” while it is still not clear what this misconduct would entail.
It is worth noticing that there is no guarantee that these amendments will make it in the final version of the law after the plenary session. Additionally , although the Senators – mainly from the right parties – are particularly hostile to the headscarf, they will probably be more amenable to the section of the bill about limiting home schooling and private schools which will be discussed in the upcoming weeks. This section on education is aimed at schools “ruled by Muslim religious extremists” but will impact Catholic schools and parents who have in the last decades negotiated specific accommodations with the State. Although public education is the norm, the private sector of education dominated by catholic schools has grown steadily. Similarly, the “Instruction within Family” (IEF – Instruction en famille) that promotes home schooling mostly concerns catholic families. In other words, while targeting Islam, Macron interferes with the accommodations granted to other French religious groups, especially the Catholic ones,which could lead them to also protest the bill .
It appears that the presidential majority finds itself in an ambivalent position: Emmanuel Macron attempts to appeal to the right-wing electorate have pushed the debate on social issues further to the right of the political spectrum. However, Macron does not want the right wing parties to take ownership of the bill.