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France Generally Respects Religious Freedom

France Generally Respects Religious Freedom Despite Areas Of Concern – UN Expert

New York, Sep 30 2005

While the French Government generally respects the right to freedom of religion or belief, there are nevertheless certain areas of concern in connection with such issues as the ban on conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, a United Nations expert has found after a visit to the country.

“I am however sure that eventually the French society will be able to overcome the obstacles as its commitment to fundamental rights runs deep and is the foundation of the Republic,” the Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Asma Jahangir, said in statement in Paris yesterday.

She noted that the law on conspicuous religious symbols had a positive element as it takes into account the autonomy of a female child who may be subjected to gender discrimination at a stage when she is unable to realize the consequences of being lured or forced into wearing an Islamic headscarf, for example.

But at the same time, it denies the right to those teenagers who have freely chosen to wear a religious symbol in school as part of their religious belief. In particular, the law denies innocent expression of religious beliefs even if it is conspicuous as in the case of Sikh children, she added.

“My concerns are more serious with regard to the indirect consequences of the law in the longer term,” she said, citing cases where implementation of the law led to abuses that provoked feelings of humiliation, in particular amongst young Muslim women.

“According to many voices, such public humiliation can only lead to radicalization of the affected persons and those associated with them,” she added. “Moreover, the stigmatization of the so called Islamic headscarf has triggered a wave of religious intolerance when women wear it outside school, at university or at their workplace.”

Ms. Jahangir also noted that various measures on cults taken in the second part of the 90s had undermined the right to freedom of religion or belief but in the last few years the authorities had begun to take steps to redress the situation.

She also voiced concern that, in some circumstances, selective interpretation and rigid application of the law on secularism had operated at the expense of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Noting that the Jewish community continues to be the target of acts of religious intolerance, she urged the French Government to “remain, as it does, extremely vigilant in this regard and continue to take the appropriate measures to prosecute the perpetrators as well as to redress the situation vis-à-vis the victims.”

Ms. Jahangir met with government and judiciary officials, representatives of relevant institutions, the main religious communities and associations whose members have other forms of beliefs, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).


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