French minister criticises poster featuring headscarf

Parents’ group sparks controversy in challenge to France’s rules on religious neutrality in schools

A woman wearing a niqab as she walks in a street in Roubaix, northern France. France was one of the first countries to ban face veils. AFP
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France’s education minister ignited a new row over the headscarf in French society after he criticised a poster featuring a Muslim mother preparing to take her child on a school trip.

Jean-Michel Blanquer described the poster, which featured a woman in a hijab, as an “error” and restarted the debate over the country’s religious neutrality rules in schools and other state institutions.

The poster was published by a parents’ group with the photo accompanied by the text which said: “Yes, I’m going on a school trip, and so what?”

It added: “Secularism is about welcoming all parents to school, without exception.”

The headscarf has been a source of controversy in France, which became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in 2011.

France banned religious symbols in schools in 2004 – based on laws aimed at equality for all beliefs – in a move that received widespread public support.

But the law does not extend to trips – despite presidential advice to continue the ban beyond the school gates – and education leaders have been divided on whether to enforce the restriction.

“From a legal point of view, there is nothing wrong with a mother wearing a veil,” Mr Blanquer told BFM TV. “But it's not something we want to encourage.”

The poster was published before local school elections by a group known for promoting left-wing causes.

“The minister has created a precedent: he has waded into an election involving pupils' parents,” the co-founder of the parents’ group, Rodrigo Arenas, told AFP.

The poster dispute followed a row last year when a prominent politician claimed that the teaching of Arabic led to Islamist extremism and terrorism. His comments came after Mr Blanquer welcomed a report that proposed expanding the teaching of Arabic.