Macron says France needs new debate on secularism

AFP , Wednesday 12 Jun 2024

President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday France needed a new debate on secularism rules that ban religious symbols from classrooms and some sports, as he sought to rally support before snap elections.

France s President Emmanuel Macron delivers remarks during a press conference held at the Pavillon Cambon Capucines in Paris. AFP


"There is this feeling that secularism is not always well applied, that things are not clear," he said at a Paris press conference in the run-up to the polls he called for June 30 following his party's dismal score in European elections on Sunday.

"We need... to open up a big debate on secularism and take clear measures on subjects that need to be dealt with," he said.

French laws on secularism -- or "laicite" -- are intended to keep the state neutral in religious matters, while guaranteeing citizens the right to freely practice their religion.

But rights groups have criticised what they call "discriminatory" bans that have notably barred Muslim women athletes wearing the headscarf from representing France in the Paris Olympics, or playing soccer or basketball in clubs.

Macron said new discussions on secularism rules should include "all elected officials", as well as "associations" and "companies who experience this on a daily basis".

Any decisions should be made not "out of passion" but "common sense", he added.

Macron said he believed secularism should provide protection "while respecting (the freedom of) consciences, as well as allowing all to live together".

In 2004, France banned school children from wearing "signs or outfits by which students conspicuously show a religious affiliation", including headscarves, turbans, large crosses or kippas.

But some activists have argued French secularism rules seem to disproportionately exclude Muslim women from public life.

The government last year said it was also banning the abaya -- a garment worn by Muslim women that covers the body from the neck to the feet -- in schools.

France's highest administrative court the same year upheld a ban on women footballers wearing the hijab despite FIFA allowing head coverings since 2014.

And the French Basketball Federation has also banned the headscarf during competitions, whereas the International Basketball Federation has permitted it since 2017.

France is home to Europe's largest Muslim community, originating in part from immigration from its former colonies.

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