Religion and Public Education in International Context
Headscarf issue in France
October 1989, three girls, Smira, and sisters Leila and Fatima Achboun-,were suspended from the Gabriel -Havez Middle School in the town of Creil after refusing to remove their headscarves at their principal’s demand (France, 119). After several rounds of negotiation, the parents and the school board compromised that, the girls could wear headscarves in school, but not during classes. However, when the girls broke the compromise and started to put on their headscarves in classes again, they were expelled from the school for allegedly contravening the fundamental French value of laïcité- secularism and the neutrality of the public school. This local incident sparked a broad range of media attention, causing the issue to expand into a national level debate. Some people argued that the students were entitled to the right to choose to wear their headscarves. They believed that the law that bans veils in school, violates Muslim students’ rights of practicing their religion freely. Others justify these laws on the principle of lacïté. Since 1989, French politicians have continuously issued statements clarifying the French government’s stand on the veil affair. In my opinion, since France is a country established through a radical revolution against the power of church and king, grounded by the value of lacïté (secularism), and aimed to realize a goal of French conformity through the public school system, I regard that the laws banning headscarf in French public school are reasonable, both historically and socially.
The history of struggling to build a country through a radical revolution, provides one explanation for why France treats the headscarf issue so seriously today. Although both the United States and France were founded through revolution, The French Revolution had a different approach. Tracing back to 1789, when the revolutionist and progressivists in France rose up a radical revolution against the “Catholic monarchy,” its aim was to make France a country of “republic secularism,” which “relegate religion strictly to the private sphere and regulate its entry into the public sphere” (“Headscarf Politics”; France, 49). The founders of this newly established nation, claiming themselves to be believers of reason, aimed to secularize an already religious country by forbidding public worship, removing Christian signs, and closing churches (class note). “About 15,000 Catholic schools were closed, and tens of thousands of clerical teachers lost their jobs” (“Headscarf Politics”). These continuous efforts made France move gradually towards a nation of complete secularism. The notion of being religious was considered wired, and only when Napoleon came to power had the churches regained a little ground, but no church had ever restored its political reign again.
In 1905, the issuing of a law of separation had confirmed the French separation of church and state, which established a legal foundation of French laïcité, a unique French idea that cannot be fully translated into any other language: “a republic can ensure the separation of public and private only by refraining from recognizing distinctive cultural or religious identities within the public sphere” (France, 50; Wieviorka, 29). The Article 1 of the French Constitution states that, “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic.” Compared to the United States, France is a more secular country. The idea of French secularism is both written in laws and implanted in the heads of all French citizens. I think the individuals break the code are selfish, and the veil ban mandate is reasonable because the interest of preserving the public order and unity of the country is greater than satisfying individual practices.
The principle of laïcité is realized through its public school system. Since public school is the only institution that teaches students French