French pupils oppose law banning religious symbols in schools – POLITICO

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A majority of French high schoolers believe they and their classmates should be allowed to wear religious symbols such as a hijab or a kippah, a poll has found.

“Conspicuous religious symbols” have been banned in schools since 2004 as part of France’s constitutionally enshrined laïcité strand of secularism, and conservative politicians have been discussing banning Islamic veils in universities.

According to the IFOP survey — which was published Wednesday and polled lycée students aged mostly 15 to 18 — 52 percent of French high schoolers believe this should be overturned, a rate more than twice as high as the adult population (25 percent). Just under half (49 percent) of high school students are in favor of allowing public service workers, such as teachers or police officers, to also wear religious garments.

The poll comes six months after the murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in class, and as the French government’s bill on “separatism” — which aims to reinforce the legal tools available to the government to curtail Islamist radicalism in France — is debated in parliament. These events have reignited a tense debate over what laïcité is and how much the government should regulate religious practice.

More high schoolers hold a different view on what laïcité really means, compared with French adults. Some 29 percent of them believe the French take on secularism is first and foremost about “putting all religions on an equal footing” (compared to 19 percent of French adults). Just 11 percent of them think it’s primarily about “reducing the influence of religions in our society” (which 26 percent of adults believe).

Plus, 43 percent of high schoolers think current laws on laïcité — which was mostly codified by a 1905 law, and reinforced by the 2004 religious signs ban — are discriminatory toward at least one religious group. More than a third (37 percent) of them — and 81 percent of Muslim high school students — think they are Islamophobic.

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