Gabriel Attal visits a classroom in the Bourbon college, in Saint-Denis de La Réunion, on August 17, 2023. OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI / MYOP FOR “THE WORLD”
A few hours before the start of the school year, a ” memo “ published on Thursday 31 August confirms the ban on abayas (long dresses of Middle Eastern tradition, worn over other clothes) and qamis (long tunics for men) at school, announced on Sunday 27 August in the newspaper televised on TF1 by the new Minister of National Education, Gabriel Attal, in the name of respect for the principles of secularism in schools.
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While the controversy has since swelled and taken a political turn – the left tearing itself apart on the subject when the right and the extreme right approve – the text brings in a completely legal sobriety “clear instructions” that school principals have been waiting for for a year.
“The rise in power of wearing abaya or qamis type outfits has raised a large number of questions about what to do”underline the text in the preamble. Or, “The wearing of such outfits, which ostensibly manifest a religious affiliation in the school environment, cannot be tolerated there”. “Everything is in this sentence, by which the ministry makes the abaya and the qamis clothes whose wearing, by itself, manifests a religious affiliation, and which thus systematically fall within the scope of the law of 2004 “analyzes Jean-Paul Markus, professor of public law at the University of Paris-Saclay.
A gray area so far
The law of March 15, 2004which frames this question, does not draw up a list of religious signs and outfits but recalls a major principle which can be summed up in a few lines: “In public schools, colleges and high schools, the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly manifest a religious affiliation is prohibited. » Its application circular of May 2004, as well as the case law established by the Council of State, has thus prohibited signs that lead to “to be immediately recognized by one’s religious affiliation” – such as the veil, the yarmulke or a large cross – but also signs or outfits which are not by nature of religious affiliation, but become so “indirectly and manifestly” taking into account the student’s desire to make them produce this meaning. The abaya has so far entered this gray area.
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The text will not fail to make react those who consider that this decision is similar to “a clothing police” even to Islamophobia, while the French Council for Muslim Worship, among others, does not consider the abaya or the qamis as religious symbols. The deputy La France insoumise Manuel Bompard has already announced that he wants to seize the Council of State to challenge its legality. If the appeal were accepted – which is not certain – it would then be up to the administrative judge to decide on the assimilation of the abaya and the qamis to clothing that systematically manifests religious affiliation. “If he considers that this is not the case, he can cancel the memo, and bring it back to management on a case-by-case basis”summarizes Mr. Markus.
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