French Senate approves hardened version of bill accused of stigmatizing Islam


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The right-wing majority Senate in France has approved proposals including expanded bans on religious symbols and clothing in a package of new bills to counter what President Emmanuel Macron has called Islamist separatism. Critics say the new measures, which might not be included in the final version, discriminate against Muslims.

The French Senate, dominated by the right-wing opposition party Les Républicains, approved a new version of the controversial “separatism” bill on Monday evening by 208 votes in favor, against 109 against.

The new version adds to the measures already adopted by the National Assembly, controlled by the centrist Republic en Marche (LREM) party of President Emmanuel Macron.

Designed primarily to crack down on religious leaders or organizations deemed to espouse values ​​contrary to those of the French Republic, the bill has been controversial since its first announcement last fall as a measure to combat what Macron called separatism. Islamist.

The label was dropped but returned under the version approved by the Senate, which qualifies it as a bill “strengthening respect for the principles of the Republic and the fight against separatism”.

The version approved by the Senate will not necessarily be the one signed into law. If a multi-party parliamentary committee fails to agree on a common version, each chamber of parliament will vote again, with the National Assembly to have the last word.

What are the reinforced measures?

The Version approved by the Senate introduced measures that would expand bans on symbols or clothing expressing religious faith in public.

The new version proposes to extend the bans on face coverings including for parents accompanying children on school trips, during national sports competitions and for minors in public places, as well as the full swimsuit, says burkini in swimming pools.

These measures may not be included in the final version. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin previously said the government would not accept a ban on the expression of religious faith in public, and LREM senators abstained in the vote.

Other new measures include banning religious practices at public universities and other higher education institutions, with senators leading the example of prayers in hallways and other “inappropriate places.”

The text would prohibit political campaigns on platforms deemed contrary to “national sovereignty and democracy, as well as secularism” and prohibits candidates wearing religious symbols on campaign materials and “openly community” platforms.

The immigration services would have the right to refuse the renewal of the residence cards of people who seem to have rejected the republican principles, the social services could withhold family allowances in the event of too many school absences and the mayors would have the right to ban foreign flags at weddings or civil unions.

Home education

However, the senators have chosen to relax the measures concerning home education.

The government argued that home schooling could be a blanket for radicalization and sought to introduce a system whereby families wishing to attend home schooling would have to apply for permission.

The senators canceled this measure, preferring to keep the current system of simply declaring home schooling, not wanting to create “generalized mistrust” around home schooling, which is not always done for reasons. religious.

A number of articles have recently been included in the Senate version.

An amendment requires state approval for foreign funding of religious sites and to oppose private schools funded by states deemed “hostile” to France.

Concurrent with the controversy over “single-sex” meetings organized by the left-wing student union UNEF, right-wing senators introduced a clause that would allow the government to ban any group that restricts access to meetings on the basis of color. skin or origin.

Accused of discrimination

Left-wing senators and human rights groups generally opposed the proposals.

“The senators who approved this text not only validated measures already identified as problematic, but also introduced new measures clearly contrary to international law and human rights, in particular the principle of non-discrimination”, declared Jean-François Dubost from the French office of the rights group Amnesty International in a report.

Amnesty was particularly opposed to proposals concerning religious symbols or clothing, arguing that secularism or “neutrality” did not signify legitimate grounds for prohibition.

“While the amendments have been worded neutrally, the debates around their adoption specifically target Muslims,” ​​Dubost said.

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