March 24, 2004 1 min read

Mixed Message?

French President Jacques Chirac last week signed legislation prohibiting public school children from wearing conspicuous religious symbols. At the same time, the country’s education minister was calling for the teaching of more tolerance in schools.

Both chambers of France’s Parliament had voted overwhelmingly in favor of the law in recent weeks. It will take effect in September, the beginning of the school year.

Although Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses will be banned, the first target is Muslim headscarves.

Conservative and liberal lawmakers alike supported the ban, which the president called for last December. (“Chirac Proposal on Religious Garb Stirs Debate,” Jan. 7, 2004.)

While relatively few protesters marched against it in the streets of France, the law sparked many demonstrations around the world, especially in Muslim countries.

Meanwhile, the French Ministry of Education has published a guidebook for schools to use in carrying out the law and in teaching tolerance.

In his introduction to the guide, Minister of Education Luc Ferry explains that the legislation’s first goal is to prevent the possibility that children will come into a classroom and guess other students’ religious affiliations. Secularism in France aims to enable children who do not have the same religious or political beliefs to get along together.

In a press release, Mr. Ferry added: “At a time when our nation is strengthening some social rules, schools must have a new means to intensify the tools teachers use to promote tolerance.”

Among those tools cited in the guide is a list of films that includes “The Great Dictator,” “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Elephant Man,” and “E.T.”

—Claire Guimbert