Schools in France have sent Muslim girls home for wearing abayas. Defying a ban on the garment seen as a religious symbol, nearly 300 girls showed up on Monday morning wearing abayas, Education Minister Gabriel Attal told the BFM broadcaster on Tuesday. Most schoolgirls agreed to change into appropriate clothes, but the 67 students who refused to change were sent home with a letter to their parents on secularism.
The government announced the ban on the abaya in schools last month because they broke the rules on secularism in education that have already seen headscarves forbidden on the grounds they constitute a display of religious affiliation.
Abayas are an Islamic religious garment which fully and loosely covers the body from the shoulders to the feet, predominantly worn by women.
France’s absolute ban on religious signs and garments at school spans back to the 19th- century. This secular law enforces the separation of religion from the state.
The law has been developed over time to reflect the changing society of France, which has banned the Muslim headscarf, Jewish kippa, and Sikh turbans. In 2010, France banned wearing full-face veils in public, which led to widespread controversial debates.
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, has voiced his centrist stance on the enforcement of secularist laws. Macron commented, “school is secular and that means there’s no room for religious signs [...] but I think it’s very important because school must remain a neutral place."
The letter on secularism sent home to the parents of the schoolchildren who refused to change would have likely stressed the importance of secularism in safeguarding freedom of religion or belief and ensuring that the government does not favour any particular religion or impose religion on its citizens.
The enforcement of banning abayas has reignited controversial debate over the freedom to express religious belief.
The Education Minister, Attal, has commented on this: “I don’t think that the school uniform is a miracle solution that solves all problems related to harassment, social inequalities or secularism [but] we must go through experiments, try things out” in order to promote debate. Therefore, Attal has reinstated that this controversial debate ignited by the ban on Abayas is a healthy promotion of progress within society.
Edited by: Anwen Venn
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