Senate votes to ban signs of religion on school trips

The French Senate has voted to ban parents from displaying any signs of religion or wearing religious clothing when accompanying their children on public school trips.

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The measure was voted through on Tuesday October 29, by 163 votes to 114, with the text reading: “[Applies to] people who are participating, including on school trips, to activities linked to teaching, whether within or outside of establishments”.

Yet, the measure cannot come into law unless the Assemblée Nationale also votes it through, which political commentators have suggested appears unlikely.

The measure was put forward in the Senate by the Les Républicains party, which has a majority there; in contrast, the Assemblée is dominated by the ruling La République en Marche (LREM) party. All 23 LREM Senators voted against the measure.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has already said that he is opposed to the move, calling it “counterproductive”, while Senator Samia Ghali has denounced it as “dangerous, hateful and stigmatising”.

The measure comes after a row erupted earlier this month, when a mother wearing the hijab entered a regional council meeting of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, to accompany her child and his schoolmates as part of a school trip.

Rassemblement National (RN) president Julien Odoul took issue with her clothing. He suggested that people who are effectively working as part of a public service - in this case, a school - should not be allowed to display overt signs of their religion, to maintain the principle of laïcité, or secularism.

Following the furore, President Emmanuel Macron spoke on the issue, saying: “[Whether someone] wears a hijab in a public space is not my business. [But] wearing a hijab in public services, in schools, when we are educating our children, is my business.

“In public services, we have a duty of neutrality. When we are educating our children, we ask that there are no ostentatious signs of religion. Apart from that, what happens in the public space, is not the business of the State or of the President of the Republic.”

Mr Blanquer has added that while he is opposed to the idea of banning the hijab from school trips completely, he believes that overt religious clothing is “not appropriate in our society”.

The row continues as tensions grow following the shooting and arson attack by an elderly white man on a mosque in Bayonne on Monday (October 28), in which two people were injured.

According to the prosecutor in the case, the suspect - who had been a candidate for the RN party in local elections - said that he wanted “revenge for the destruction” of the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, which was partly destroyed by fire in April.

Although the fire has been confirmed as an accident, false rumours still abound that it was started deliberately, and the suspect said he blamed on “the Muslim community”.

President Macron called the attack “hateful” and said “the Republic will never tolerate hate”, while RN leader Marine Le Pen, also condemned the incident, saying that it did not align with “the values of our movement”.

Yet, La France Insoumise MP Jean-Luc Mélenchon has dubbed the current political atmosphere - including the Senate vote - the result of “the harassment of Muslims”.

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