Minister says he wants to avoid having mothers in hijab as volunteers on school trips
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Wed 25 Sep 2019
A fresh political row has erupted over the Muslim headscarf in France after the education minister said he wanted to avoid having mothers in hijab as volunteers on school outings.
Jean-Michel Blanquer criticised the country’s largest parents association for using a picture of a mother in a headscarf on a pamphlet under the words: “Yes I go on school trips, so what? Secularism is about welcoming all parents without exception.”
Blanquer told BFMTV that even though French law did not ban mothers in headscarves from going on school trips as volunteers, he wanted to avoid this “as much as possible”. He said he encouraged “dialogue” in which headteachers would ask mothers to remove their scarves. He said the parents association had made a “regrettable” mistake by using the picture.
The parents association that produced the pamphlet, the FCPE, said the minister was wrong. Its co-president Rodrigo Arenas said: “We’re on the side of the law and we’re simply here to inform parents of their rights.
“The country’s state council has ruled that parents are free to wear what they like. This means mothers on school trips can wear headscarves. And yet there are still school trips in France which are cancelled by teachers who won’t allow mothers in headscarves to accompany children.
“We protect parents’ rights. Secularism in France is about including people, not excluding them.”
Teachers in France regularly ask for parents to volunteer to accompany school outings to museums or galleries. But there has been political debate and counter-protests over whether volunteer mothers in headscarves should be excluded in the name of French secularism.
There is no law preventing a Muslim mother in a headscarf from accompanying a school trip. The state council ruled in 2013 that mothers outside school were not affected by the strict neutrality rules for state workers such as teachers or hospital staff who cannot wear any religious symbols in the workplace, including headscarves and turbans.
The French republic is built on a strict separation of church and state, intended to foster equality for all private beliefs. In theory, the state is neutral on religion and allows everyone the freedom to practise their faith as long as there is no threat to public order.
But the row is the latest political standoff over Muslim women’s dress in France, where the headscarf has long been a political issue. Girls have been banned from wearing head coverings in state schools since 2004, along with other religious symbols.