Thursday, September 09, 2004

Veils remain in Strasbourg

The law against wearing veils in French classrooms is not being enforced in Strasbourg. Because Alsace has unique rules about teaching religion in schools, some school officials feel that it is inappropriate to deny religious freedoms that other Alsatian students enjoy.

Alsace does not fall under the secularization laws of 1907 like the rest of France. At the time the laws were written Alsace was part of Germany. Bismarck and the German authorities had decided decades before to renew the Concordat that Napoleon had signed with the Papacy that allowed Catholics, Protestants and Jews to be taught religion in state-run schools. After réunion with France, Alsatians fought to keep religious education in schools--a right that was finally recognized in the 1950s. Ever since religious education has been a unique privilege that Alsace enjoys that other régions do not.

The school officials do not feel that they can act against veils because of the tradition of religious education. Islam is not taught in Alsatian schools (like other religions). However, officials do not feel they can act against the veils because the presence of religion is tolerated in schools. Furthermore, the local Muslim community feels that the issue of the veil can be used as an opening to introduce instruction of Islam into schools.
En raison du statut scolaire local, qui n'englobe pas l'islam, les élèves musulmans n'ont en effet pas cours de religion, à la différence de leurs camarades des cultes catholique, luthérien, réformé et juif. La situation peut-elle évoluer ... en préconisant un enseignement de la religion optionnel pour tous ?
So far 80 of the 100-120 cases in which girls have refused to uncover themselves are in Alsace. The French government got a temporary reprieve last week when two French reporters were taken hostage in Iraq. French Muslims, not wanting to be the pawns of international terrorism, have temporarily complied with the prohibition on veils in schools.

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