Recent votes in The National Assembly (French parliament building) have revealed that the majority sentiment amongst French politicians is that restrictions over religious freedoms should be made law. If voted into law, the age of consent will be lower than the age of which a woman can wear a hijab. What do these restrictions entail? And what does this mean for the 5.7 million Muslims in France?
Often referred to as ‘la loi de séparatisme’ in French media, this new piece of proposed legislation stems from the practice of laïcité in France, laïcité being a form of secularism. Laïcité ensures that religion is kept away from public affairs. Since 1905, a law has been in place to ensure that secularism is withheld in France. This form of secularism is meant to guarantee freedom of expression and has shifted purpose (in modern times) to prevent radicalisation and in turn acts of terrorism. But what does this new development of Laïcité mean?
Firsty, all people under 18 are forbidden to wear the hijab, as well as those who accompany children on school trips. Although the bill does not state at any point the word ‘Islam’, protestors in France have taken to the streets to protest the Islamaphobic sentiments in the proposition. Stated in the bill, the government will hold the power to shut down places of worship which they believe are spreading hate. According to French politician Darmanin, 89 mosques in France are under suspicion. The bill also proposes a ban on ‘virginity tests’ often performed by medical practitioners as preparation for a woman to be married. Alongside a further ban on religious homeschooling.
Those in favour of the bill (predominantly politicians belonging to the far-right) claim it is to reinforce ‘republican values’ in France, those being liberty, equality and fraternity. However those who disagree with the bill, see that it is an infringement of civil liberties. Interestingly far-left politicians refrained from voting on this law in February. Since 2004, it has been illegal to wear religious clothes or symbols in French schools and in 2011 France became the first country to ban women from wearing any type of veil or niqab outside their homes. Some have described the bill as a political ploy for Macron, a populist movement. With this bill, he may be able to swing far-right voters in next year's election.
Lawmakers in the French Senate voted in favour of a new version of the bill with a 208-109 majority. The National Assembly will have the final say over whether this bill becomes law. Those against the bill have also taken to social media with #handsoffmyhijab, or #pastouchamonhijab the French version. With protests and interventions from organisations like Amnesty International, see their statement here, all is not yet over.