A teacher named Yvon from the town of Les Mureaux in north-central France, who was also interviewed by Radio Europe 1 , said he hoped the measure was not just a political gimmick. “If it is a charter posted on the wall, teachers must be encouraged to enforce it in their daily classes,” he said.
Peillon’s predecessor as Education Minister, Luc-Marie Chatel , from the main opposition party in France, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), expressed his tentative support for the charter: “I think it is a good idea. Any time we can give children a point of reference as to what the French Republic is, and what our values are, that is a good thing.”
But UMP Chairwoman Michèle Tabarot accused the Hollande government of “lacking determination” when it comes to enforcing the separation of mosque and state.
In a statement, Tabarot said the “the reality is that in recent years, the Left has singularly lacked courage in the difficult fight to defend secularism. This is demonstrated by the fact that the current majority [in parliament] refused to pass the law banning the wearing of full face veils in public places when it was in opposition.”
Tabarot was referring to the burqa ban, which was approved by the French Parliament in July 2010, even though most members of the opposition (Socialists, Communists and Greens) voted against the measure.
According to Tabarot, “Recently, the government has also refused to legislate a ban on wearing conspicuous signs in private nurseries. Once again, the French can therefore only see the intolerable gap between the words and deeds of the governing majority.”
This is the second time in recent months that Peillon has courted controversy with a plan to reinforce secular values in French schools.
In April, Peillon announced a project for students in primary and secondary schools to debate “secular morality” [morale laïque] for one hour every week beginning in September 2015.
Peillon’s original plan was for the subject to be taught as a separate subject with dedicated teachers. But after a wave of opposition from teachers, the plan was watered down, and discussion of secular values will now take the form of debates rather than formal teaching. Teachers will be given special training on how to lead debates on issues in which Islam takes a different position, and students will be evaluated individually based on their knowledge and behavior.
The debate over secularism in France has continued throughout 2013:
In August, the High Council of Integration [HCI], a government-funded research institute, recommended that the wearing of religious symbols — such as crucifixes, Jewish skullcaps and Muslim headscarves — should be banned in French universities to ease the “escalating religious tensions in all areas of university life.”
In a 54-page report (PDF here), HCI says its research has shown that some universities have experienced problems from demands to be “excused from attendance for religious reasons… for separation of the sexes in lectures and seminars, instances of proselytizing, disagreements over the curriculum, and the wearing of religious clothes and symbols.”
A law passed in 2004 prohibits the wearing or open display of religious symbols in all French schools and colleges, but does not apply to universities.
In January, a 24-year-old Tunisian student at the University of Nantes in western France was asked by her professor to remove her hijab when she arrived for class. After she refused, the professor asked her to leave the lecture. The student went immediately to complain to officials in the Faculty of Sciences; the professor was forced to apologize to the student.
In July, hundreds of Muslims in Paris went on a rioting spree to protest the enforcement of the burqa ban after police checked the identity of a Muslim woman who was illegally wearing a full-face Islamic veil in public. A similar outbreak of unrest occurred in June, when police stopped a 25-year-old woman for wearing a veil in Argenteuil, a suburb 12 kilometers (8 miles) northwest of Paris.
In March, a school in the town of Arveyres in south-western France said it would no longer offer a meat alternative to students who do not eat pork. According to French television TF1, 28 of the 180 children attending the school used to be offered a substitute meat when pork was on the menu.