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  • October 2019: Draft law on the wearing of the veil for school trip supervisors

In October, the debate on the issue of wearing the Islamic veil resurfaced in France.
In 1989, this question of the veil first arose about secondary school students. This sparked intense discussion, which led to the 2004 law on the prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols in schools. Since then, the question of clothing related to religious beliefs, most often concerning Muslims, has been raised regularly: about the full veil in 2010, or the ’burqini’ in 2016. Several national reports have been published on this issue.
Recently, the controversy was rekindled when an elected official of the extreme right-wing party Rassemblement national questioned a woman who was attending a meeting of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté Regional Council, asking her to remove her veil. This woman was accompanying a school trip.
French law, on this point, is not always easy to understand: the wearing of religious symbols is prohibited to school pupils by the 2004 law. But this does not apply to older university students. On the other hand, the wearing of religious symbols is prohibited for public service employees, who are subject to the obligation of religious neutrality of the public service, but this prohibition does not apply to users of the public service.
The status of parents accompanying school trips is not clear; they at first could have been considered by the courts as being subject to the obligation of neutrality of public services, but then were seen as users not subject to this obligation (see the current debates of June 2015).
The proposed law claims to be aiming at mitigating this uncertainty, by amending the Education Code to extend "the prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols laid down by the 2004 law to persons who participate, including on school trips, in activities related to education in or outside schools".
The text was discussed for nearly five hours and then voted on by 163 votes to 114 (with 40 abstentions). The proposed law must now be discussed in the National Assembly.

  • October 2019: The Catholic Church and medically assisted procreation

A draft law on bioethics is being discussed since 24 September in the National Assembly. Its 32 articles include a measure concerning the extension of medically assisted procreation (MAP) to all women. More than 2000 amendments were discussed in the special committee; after this, the draft will be debated from 24 September in the National Assembly.
At a conference at the Collège des Bernardins in September, several bishops had expressed their disagreement with this bill. Several collectives, some of which had been formed during the demonstrations against the marriage of same-sex couples in 2013 (such as La Manif pour tous, Les Veilleurs, Alliance Vita, Les Associations familiales catholiques), others recently created such as the collective Marchons enfants, call for a demonstration against "MAP for all", the first demonstration was scheduled for 6 October.
After the conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the French Bishops’ Conference, told journalists that any citizen concerned about the bill, Catholic or not, had the ’duty’ to demonstrate alongside the opponents (see the journal Liberation).
In the following days, the Catholic Church’s commitment to this social debate became less clear: the spokesman of the French Bishops’ Conference, Thierry Magnin, told the newspaper Le Parisien: "It is not up to us to call for a demonstration or to stigmatize those who will go". Although opposed to allowing all women MAP, the bishop of Evreux Christian Nourrichard does not call on Catholics to demonstrate. Other bishops have done so, however, including the Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun who also participated in the demonstration on 6 October 2019 in Paris.
The organisers announced that they had mobilised 600,000 people, but the independent counting firm Occurrence has counted 74,500, according to the newspaper La Croix. Marchons enfants calls for further demonstrations in December, January, March, May and June, at which time the scale and progress of the mobilization can be assessed.
After an intense but rather short debate, the draft bioethics law was adopted at first reading in the National Assembly on 15 October by 359 votes (114 deputies voted against and 72 abstained). It should be assessed by the Senate in January.

  • June 2019: Evolution of the Roman Catholic Church in France

In its annual activity report, entitled this year Une Église au service (A Church in Service), the Conference of Bishops of France provides some information on the financial situation of the Roman Catholic Church of France. There is a slight decrease in the contribution to the Church’s funds, which would be around minus 4%. The number of donors is also decreasing, but this decrease is offset by the steady increase in average donation, up nearly 14% between 2013 and 2017. Quests, legacies and offerings made at religious ceremonies (baptisms, weddings or funerals) are also on the rise; however, the number of sacraments is decreasing.

See :
- Arnaud Bevilacqua, « L’Église de France fait son bilan annuel », La Croix, 24 June 2019,
- Julien Tranié, « Malgré une baisse, le denier de l’Église a de la ressource », La Croix, 3 December 2018.

  • May 2019: The Vincent Lambert case and the end of life

The case of Vincent Lambert (see Current debates 2014) has just undergone a new twist. Vincent Lambert, who is now a quadriplegic following a traffic accident in 2008, is totally dependent, artificially fed and hydrated and in a state of minimal consciousness since 2011. His case has become emblematic of the end-of-life debate.
In France, the end of life is regulated by Act No. 2016-87 of 2 February 2016creating new rights for patients and persons at the end of life. This act, known as the Claeys-Leonetti Act, introduced a right to "deep and continuous sedation until death" for terminally ill patients and provides that care should be stopped if there is "unreasonable obstinacy", "when care appears unnecessary, disproportionate or has no other effect than the artificial maintenance of life", in order to avoid therapeutic persecution. In addition, an opinion of the Conseil économique, social et environnemental (Economic, Social and Environmental Council) recommended on 10 April 2018 that persons suffering from an incurable disease in "advanced or terminal phase", and whose physical or psychological suffering is "impossible to soothe", should have a right to benefit from "explicitly lethal deep sedation", a provision qualified as "conditional depenalization of assistance to die" (see Le Monde, 10 April 2018).

However, the question of the end of life is still being discussed. This debate goes far beyond the religious issue. In the case of Vincent Lambert, however, it is coloured by the religious convictions of one of the parties: this case mainly opposes Vincent Lambert’s wife to his parents, in particular his mother, close to the brotherhood of Saint Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic movement at odds with the Vatican. On behalf of their convictions, parents oppose decisions to stop treatment. Thus, twice, in 2013 and again in 2014, the nursing staff decided to stop treatment in agreement with V. Lambert’s wife, but the parents referred to an administrative court which annulled this decision both times.
In January 2014, V. Lambert’s wife appealed to the Conseil d’Etat, which, after an expert opinion, ruled that the decision to stop treatment in June 2014 was legal. The parents then referred the matter to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which asked "the French government to suspend the execution of the judgment delivered by the Council of State" until it can rule (see the current debate of 24 June 2014).
The ECHR delivered a judgment on 5 June 2015, considering that the procedure adopted to stop keeping Vincent Lambert alive was in accordance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life). This decision was condemned by the French bishops who consider it to be an assisted suicide rather than a medical stop. (La Croix, 11 June 2016.)
In 2018, Vincent Lambert’s medical team again decided to stop treatment: a report by experts appointed by the Châlons-en-Champagne (Marne) administrative court confirmed Vincent Lambert’s "chronic vegetative state", described as "irreversible". (Le Monde, 22 November 2018.)
The Church considered this decision to stop the treatment unacceptable, by a public declaration of the bioethics group of the French Bishops’ Conference. The Archbishop of Reims and his auxiliary bishop declared that they prayed "so that our French society does not commit itself to the path of euthanasia". (See their declaration.)
The parents again file appeals with the Council of State and the ECHR, which are rejected: the Council of State ruled that the collegial decision taken by the Reims University Hospital to stop care was legal, in a decision handed down on Wednesday 24 April 2019. And on 20 May 2019, the European Court of Human Rights decided to refuse the request for interim measures submitted to it (Lambert and Others v. France, Application No. 21675/19).
On 15 May 2019, the Paris Administrative Court rejected an appeal by Vincent Lambert’s parents, who requested the suspension of the procedure for stopping care pending the examination of their complaint lodged with the UN International Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The court explained its rejection on the grounds that this committee, which is "not a national body", "does not constitute a court", and that the French government "had no obligation to respect" the committee’s request to ensure that Vincent Lambert’s food and hydration are not suspended during the committee’s examination of his case.
Vincent Lambert’s attending physician began stopping his nutrition and hydration in the morning of May 20, 2019.
However, on the evening of 20 May 2019, the Paris Court of Appeal ordered the French State to take all measures to ensure compliance with the provisional measures requested by the CRPD for the resumption of the medical treatment, considering that "regardless of the mandatory or binding nature of the suspension measure requested by the Committee, the French State has undertaken to respect this international pact". This is only a measure to give the CRPD time to decide on the merits. However, this decision was received as a victory by Vincent Lambert’s parents (see Le Monde and Le Parisien, May 20, 2019).

Addition of 13 July 2019: Vincent Lambert died 11 July 2019 following the cessation of treatment.

For further information : Anne-Sophie Faivre Le Cadre, « Affaire Vincent Lambert : tout comprendre en 8 dates », Le Monde, 22 November 2018.

  • March 2019: The Catholic church in a difficult situation due to cases of sexual violence and abuse

In many countries, the Roman Catholic Church has been facing for several decades a difficult situation, with revelations of rape, abuse, sexual violence and paedophilia committed in the Church. Many revelations have recently given even more prominence to these issues, and the Roman Catholic Church dedicated a summit to these issues in the Vatican on 24 February 2019.
In France, the subject has been present in social debates for several years now. In 2017, the French Bishops’ Conference produced a report on the fight against paedophilia in the Church, which was updated in 2018.
In the recent weeks, the debate has taken on a new dimension, with several new revelations: an educational institution run by a traditionalist Catholic community (the children’s village of Riaumont, in Liévin, Pas-de-Calais), is suspected of child abuse (see the article in Libération). Frédéric Martel’s book Sodoma, on homosexuality in the Catholic clergy, and more recently, a documentary entitled Religieuses abusées, l’autre scandale de l’Eglise (Abused nuns, the other scandal of the Church, by Eric Quitin and Marie-Pierre Raimbaud), have added new questions. Finally, most recently, Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, was sentenced to six months’ suspended imprisonment for failing to denounce a priest’s attacks on children (Le Monde). The cardinal announced that he would be submitting his resignation to the Pope (Le Figaro).
A commission was set up last November by the French Bishops’ Conference to investigate sexual abuse of minors in the French Catholic Church since the 1950s. The Commission has 22 members, 10 women and 12 men, and includes believers of different faiths and non-believers, atheists or agnostics, but neither a priest nor a cleric, nor any personality involved (France Inter, Le Figaro, La Vie).

  • February: Antisemitism in France

For several months now, France has been experiencing a major movement of social constestation (the so-called "yellow vests" movement). It is increasingly apparent that this movement is taken as an opportunity for some to formulate messages of hatred against Jews.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Monday 11 February that by 2018, the number of anti-Semitic acts had increased by 74%, from 311 to 541 (Le Monde). Although the reality of these acts is difficult to measure precisely (Le Monde), it remains clear that the proportion of violent acts is becoming more significant than that of insults and threats, and that anti-Semitic prejudices are unfortunately widespread (see the 2016 IFOP survey).
However, the government had stated its intention to become more involved in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, particularly on the Internet. Religious leaders and secular organizations called for a march against anti-Semitism on Tuesday, February 19 (Francetv info).

Reference : Avia Laetitia, Amellal Karim, Taieb Gil, Rapport au Premier ministre sur le renforcement de la lutte contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme sur Internet, 21 September 2018.

  • January: Review of the Law of 1905

There is definitely no end to the discussion of secularism in France: laïcité is one of the themes of the great national debate, launched on 15 January in France, in which citizens are invited to express themselves. Two questions in this debate concern secularism, one asking the French whether its application is satisfactory or to be modified, the other whether they have proposals to make to strengthen its principles in the State’s relationship with religions. Even if ¾ of the French people seem attached to secularism as defined by law, only 46% think that it should not be modified (Viavoice survey for the Observatoire de la laïcité, November 2018).
The inclusion of questions on secularism in the major national debate is in line with work carried out over the past few months by the government, which is considering amending the 1905 law (the law which defines the principles of the separation of the State and religions in France). To this end, a consultation of the Minister of the Interior with religious leaders has been ongoing for several months. Its main objective, in fact, is to encourage as many religious groups as possible, and in particular Muslim associations, to organise themselves according to the provisions of the 1905 law. Many religious associations prefer to adopt the general status of associations (known as the 1901 law): this does not allow them to benefit from the same tax advantages as religious associations, in particular the exemption on donations and legacies, but it is much more flexible in administrative terms. In addition, the status of associations under the 1905 law, known as denominational associations, does not allow them to receive income from property rental.
One of the aims of a revision of the 1905 law (which has already been amended more than fifty times) is undoubtedly to make this status of denominational association more attractive, with a view to better controlling the financial flows of religious groups. However, this raises some reservations on the part of religious leaders, who fear that the administrative structure will become more complex.
The draft law is expected to be released in February; but it will only be presented to the Council of Ministers after the conclusions of the major national debate (see Liberation).

D 21 November 2019    AAnne-Laure Zwilling

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