The bill on secularism in France
Interview given by H.E. Mr. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, French Prime Minister, to the «Le Journal du Dimanche» newspaper- Excerpts-
(Paris, January 25, 2004)
Question: The Bill banning "conspicuous" religious symbols in school
is giving rise to some reservations: (...) what will it say?
The Prime Minister: We shall say clearly that any symbol conspicuously displaying religious affiliation in school is prohibited. This Bill will be preceded by a preamble calling for a conciliatory approach and an understanding of what is at stake. There’s no ambiguity. The Stasi Commission listened and deliberated, President Chirac made his views known, the UMP [Union pour un Mouvement Populaire] conducted its own debate, the various representative bodies voiced their opinions and the government took its decision following receipt of the opinion of the Conseil d’Etat [supreme administrative court which also advises the government on legislation]. It’s important to show that, while authorizing the demonstrations and promoting diversity of opinion, the Republic can’t allow itself to be undermined from within. The Republic is open and tolerant but also knows how and when to be firm and make its values respected.
Question: Some people will reproach you for violating the right of religious expression ?
The Prime Minister: Let them be reassured, it has never been one of our intentions to ban religion in society, but solely to protect the national education system from any conspicuous display of religious affiliation. Secularism (laïcité) in France is a fundamental value, particularly in France’s foremost Republican sanctuary, her schools, where every young person is learning about citizenship, universality and where he or she must benefit from the principles of equality and liberty, the neutrality of public services. Young girls
must be particularly protected.
Question: Does the adjective "conspicuous" seem to you better than
"visible"? It allows some room for interpretation?
The Prime Minister: The adverb "conspicuously" is a choice for which I take full responsibility. Our vision of secularism isn’t anti-religious, but is one of the State’s neutrality and the spirit of tolerance. Prohibiting a visible religious sign, which isn’t a manifestation of militancy, would look like a fight against religions. Our society needs hope, this is why I don’t want any aggressive secularism. But the Republic has its rules and it must not tolerate any abuse of them. I tell fundamentalists that there is no question of them attacking our Republic’s foundations. The Republic must defend itself and adopt the means to ensure it is respected, including at the level of the law. I am a believer, but I affirm that in public buildings the law of the Republic overrides religious rules.
There mustn’t be any confusion. There is no signal intimating that the bill targets any specific religion. On the other hand, all racist and discriminatory behaviour and comments will be severely condemned. The Justice Minister has taken initiatives to this end and I approve of them.»