The “Law on Strengthening Respect for the Principles of the Republic”, which was prepared with the aim of combating Islamist separatism and radical Islam, which gained momentum after the terrorist attacks that took place one after another in France, was passed by the special commission of the Parliament. The draft law will be discussed at the General Assembly of the Assembly as of February 1. The main opposition party, Republicans (LR), is preparing to revisit the headscarf debate and the amendment proposal rejected in the commission regarding the “ban on headscarves in universities” at the General Assembly.
The 72-member special commission formed in the French National Assembly concluded its talks on the “Law on Strengthening Respect for the Principles of the French Republic” on Saturday. During the work in the commission, 169 of the over a thousand amendment proposals submitted on the 51-point bill were accepted.
The first and most obvious innovation introduced in the law was the extension of the provision that public officials do not carry symbols showing their impartiality and religious views. An opposition motion was adopted in the commission, stating that “the obligation to be impartial and secularism will henceforth be attributed to all those in public service.” With the amendment proposal submitted by the center-right party Republicans’ deputy Xavier Breton, the statement “The obligation of public officials to refrain from expressing their political or religious opinions” was added to the bill.
The amendment proposal by Florent Boudie, the Commission’s rapporteur and the ruling party’s March to the Republic (LREM) MP Florent Boudie, making the formation of secularism mandatory for teachers and civil servants was also adopted.
Hijab controversy in universities
Special commission work, which lasted a week, was the scene of frequent turban discussions. LREM MP François Cormier-Bouligeon made a motion to impose an obligation of impartiality not only to public officials, but also to those who occasionally participate in public service, especially mothers who accompany school activities with head covers. The motion that did not receive support from the government was rejected by the commission.
Another issue that has been the scene of very harsh discussions was the “banning of headscarves for university students”, which came to the agenda with the motions of Republicans (LR) deputies. However, on the recommendation of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and rapporteur Florent Boudie that “the motion would create serious division”, the motion was rejected in the commission. The opposition stated that it will bring the issue to the agenda of the General Assembly.
The government is concerned that the law negotiations, which will begin at the National Assembly General Assembly on February 1, will be turned into a “headscarf debate” by a group of ruling lawmakers and the right-wing opposition. LR deputy Annie Genevard confirmed the government’s concerns, saying “There is freedom to debate in the General Assembly, this issue will definitely be on the agenda again.”
What has changed in the final version of the bill?
- Praising terrorism: With the third article of the draft, it is foreseen that those who are punished for speaking about terrorism with the content of praising or provocative will be accepted as “terrorist crimes”. With the motion accepted by the commission, the obligations of those who are tried for these crimes to “report to the police station every three months, notify about change of address and inform before going abroad” were added. However, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin underlined the “unconstitutional risk” of this change.
- Pressure and threat to public officials: Hz. A new definition of a crime “punishing threats, violence, or any act of intimidation against a public service official” was made in Article 4 of the bill, which was drafted under the influence of the murder of Samuel Paty, who was beheaded for showing Mohammed cartoons in the classroom. It was decided that those who act against this crime will be sentenced to 5 years in prison and a fine of 75 thousand Euros. With the amendment, in order to protect a teacher or a civil servant from attack, “the authority to file a criminal complaint instead of the school administration or the higher hierarchy itself” was added to the draft. This change came after teachers complained that they were left alone in the face of pressure and attacks.
Despite the government’s opposition, the commission adopted a special provision for teachers, at the suggestion of LR deputy Annie Genevard. Accordingly, those who attack teachers while performing their duties or prevent them from doing their job will be sentenced to 1 year in prison and a 15,000 Euro fine.
In addition, if there is a risk of serious damage to the teacher’s physical integrity, as in the murder of Samuel Paty, the school administration is empowered to “take emergency measures to end this risk.”
- State aid to associations: With the 6th article of the draft, the condition of “signing an agreement of commitment to the Republican Principles” was imposed for state aid to associations. Although the deputies objected to the word “contract” about this article, which was the scene of long discussions in the commission, the commission did not change this statement. Following the amendments, the article said, “Associations undertake to respect the principles of freedom, equality, fraternity, human dignity, public order, as well as the minimum requirements of life in society and the basic symbols of society.” The principle of “equality between women and men”, which is among these general values, was removed in the commission meeting because it was found “too subjective”.
- Virginity test: One of the most resonant regulations of the bill, “Prohibition of virginity test” was regulated by Article 16. It was envisaged that paramedics who performed virginity tests on a woman before marriage would be sentenced to imprisonment of up to 1 year and a fine of 15 thousand Euros. With the motion submitted by the ruling party deputy Laurence Gayte, which was accepted despite the government’s opposition, the statement, “If the virginity test performed by a non-medical profession is examined, it is considered as rape if it is done by entering the sexual organ, and if it is done without entering it as sexual harassment” entered the bill. With another amendment proposal, those who force or support virginity testing will be sentenced to 1 year in prison and a fine of 30,000 Euros, and if this practice is applied to underage girls, the penalty will be doubled.
- Hate crime online: With the 18th and 20th articles of the draft, it is aimed to reduce the hate crimes spread over the internet and social media. “Hate crimes organized on social media and creating life threats” are added to the existing control regulations. With a motion made by the center-right Democratic Movement (MoDem) deputy François Pupponi, “social media messages that pose an urgent risk about elected individuals” were also included in this scope.
With another motion based on the “gay young girl Mila” incident, which was discussed for a long time in France and was threatened with death on the internet, “increased penalties for messages containing cyberbullying (death threat and violence) against minors” was achieved. Those who committed this crime were sentenced to imprisonment of up to 5 years and a fine of 75,000 Euros.
With another change demanded by the ruling lawmakers, the commitment of the crime of cyberbullying by a public official in a racist or discriminatory manner was accepted as an “aggravating situation due to the responsibility of being an example”. This change was based on the incident of music producer Michel Zecler, who was arrested in Paris in November, and beaten by police officers with racist insults.
- Home education and Quran courses: With the 21st article of the law, in order to prevent children from receiving education at home, compulsory education was reduced to 3 years and kindergartens were included in the scope of compulsory education. The scope of homeschooling has been narrowed as much as possible. However, following the strong reactions of the church to this article, Republicans criticized the draft article, stating that “this restriction violates a fundamental freedom”.
Upon criticism, the statement that “those responsible for the child will not be allowed home education for reasons stemming from their political, philosophical or religious beliefs” was changed to “for reasons other than the best interests of the child”. The principle is that families who will educate their children at home can prove that they can do this, that each child should be educated at home in connection with a school and that an inspector is responsible for each child to facilitate the follow-up.
Articles 22 and 23 stipulate that the doors of non-contractual private educational institutions such as the Koran course or private religious schools, which are determined to be incompatible with the law, will be locked. A group of deputies asked for a statement to be added to the bill, saying that “these schools must be subject to permission before they are opened”. Despite the government’s opposing view, the proposal that requires “notifying the governorship for every teacher recruitment to such non-contractual schools” in order to “understand whether a teacher is radical” was also accepted.
- Structure of religious associations: With the articles 26 to 45 of the law, regulations were introduced that the administration of religious associations (including mosque associations) were removed from being subject to the Associations Act 1901 and subject to the Secularism Act 1905. New conditions were adopted, such as the ownership of the association buildings, the acquisition of these buildings by foreign capital, and the announcement of their religious qualities every 5 years.