French Education Minister Announces Ban On Long Robes In Public Schools

French Education Minister Announces Ban On Long Robes In Public Schools

French authorities have increasingly moved to defend secularism, a constitutional principle meant to guarantee religious neutrality, as society grows complex in a multicultural nation in which some French Muslims seek to show their religious identity.

PTIUpdated: Tuesday, August 29, 2023, 02:36 PM IST
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France Bans Long Robes In Public Schools | Reuters (Representational Pic)

Paris: France's education minister announced Monday a ban on long robes in classrooms starting with the new school year, saying the garments worn mainly by Muslims are testing secularism in the nation's schools. Critics say that abayas, worn by women, and khamis, the male garb, are no more than a fashion statement. They say the garments do not constitute an ostentatious sign of religion and should not be banned from classrooms under a 2004 law. For Gabriel Attal, the recently appointed education chief, the garments are "an infringement on secularism," a foundational principle for France, and, in some cases, a bid to destabilize schools.

The 34-year-old Attal, appointed in July, was potentially moving into a minefield with his ban on long robes to "protect" secularism, prompted by growing reports of the garments in some classrooms around the country. Previous statements and laws on secularism have seeded acrimonious debate. "Our schools are continually tested. We know that," Attal said at a news conference a week ahead of the start of the school year.

He said that the wearing of abayas and khamis, a "new phenomenon," has recently grown, and must be met with a firm response to tackle what sometimes amounts to “infringements, attempts at destabilization." "We must stand together. We will stand together... The abaya has no place in school, no more than religious symbols," Attal said, referring to the 2004 law which banned Muslim headscarves, Jewish kippas, large crosses and other “ostentatious” religious accoutrements from classrooms.

French authorities have increasingly moved to defend secularism, a constitutional principle meant to guarantee religious neutrality, as society grows complex in a multicultural nation in which some French Muslims seek to show their religious identity.

Authorities fear that religious symbols are a gateway to Islamic radicalism, while some Muslims feel stigmatised by efforts to make them conform. Islam is the second religion in France.

A 2021 law against what officials refer to as "separatism" was aimed at further strengthening the French value of secularism, including among public servants. It gave new teeth to detection of signs of Islamic radicalism, notably by strengthening oversight of mosques, schools and sports clubs. Voices quickly were raised against the plan to ban long robes from schools.

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