Baby Loup’s return to the court of appeals: towards what secularism?

June 16, 2014

On June 16 the Court of Appeals, comprised of eighteen judges, reconvened to discuss the 2008 dismissal of Fatima Afif, an employee at the Baby Loup crèche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes. The court’s decision is previewed for the end of the month. The retrial comes at a time of heightened religious tensions linked to the growing fear of radical Islam. The case’s decision could “redefine the conditions of secularism’s application” in France.

Attorney General Jean-Claude Marin has pushed to abandon the crèche’s controversial decision to prosecute Madam Afif, but to uphold her dismissal for gross misconduct. The case’s senior judge justifies her dismissal on the grounds that she “remained in the space after her legal suspension and exhibited aggressive behavior.”

Madame Afif’s Lawyer Claire Waquet stated that the employee was a victim of “religious discrimination,” and had previously won the Supreme Court’s support, which had effectively annulled Afif’s dismissal. The Supreme Court’s decision evoked the emotion of many politicians and intellectuals and led to the Court of Appeal’s decision to reestablish her dismissal in November 2013. “That her employers had wanted to fire her isn’t the problem, it’s how they fired her that shocks me. One doesn’t fire someone for misconduct and even less so for gross misconduct, without warning and without compensatory damages, someone who exercises their freedom of belief.”

The Baby Loup affair has caused “the secularists to mobilize.” Jeannette Bougrab, president of HALDE, a government association that advocates for equality and an end to discrimination, also showed her support for the crèche against the advice of her institution. Maneul Valls, a member of the National Assembly, called the conflict a “challenge to secularism.”

In September 2013 Francois Hollande spoke of a potential law pertaining to “private enterprises that assures a mission of childcare.” The president charged the “Observatoire de la laïcité,” a government organization tasked with monitoring secularism’s application, with proposing the law. The commission dismissed the option of a new law pertaining to secularism’s application but made actionable recommendations to the crèche. Supporters of the crèche were disappointed with the commission’s decision and many wonder if the judges will be swayed by public opinion. A recent BVA survey states that 80% are in favor of new legislation.

The affair’s long spectacle in the public eye has taken its toll on the citizens of Chanteloup-les-Vignes. Baby Loup has been replaced by another crèche, and citizens complain that the city has received negative publicity in recent years. According to the Nouvel Observateur the crèche has reopened in a nearby town and Fatima Afif has returned to her city after seeking refuge in Morocco. Current deliberations center on the question: “The history of French secularism continues to be written. But in what sense?”

Social housing denied to family outside of Lyon because of burka

Social housing was denied to a family in Vénissieux, a suburb outside of Lyon, allegedly because the mother of the family wears a burka, a piece of clothing “counter to French values,” declared the Rhone city council. The landlord in question justified his position stating that, “She wears the burka, which characterizes a radical practicing of religion incompatible with the essential values of the French and the equality of the sexes.”

The HALDE organization (Haute autorité de lute contre les discriminations or High Authority Against Discrimination) has stated the decision amounts to discrimination and must be appealed. In the meantime, the family of three children is without housing.

“Présentation des tests de discrimination”

The french office in charge of the evaluation of all forms of discrimination, HALDE (Haute autorité de lutte contre les discriminations), presents its latest testing report on recruitement discrimination. The presentation paper refers to a complete report, available online

The testing is based on 20 companies and nearly 1500 job offers. It shows the statistical discrimination rate of job candidates with different ethnic origins from the french, or of persons who are elder then 45 years. The statistical discrimination rate of persons with african or arabian origins is 23% (23% less opportunities than others) and even 42% concerning the persons elder than 45. The more discriminating company is ACCOR (Accor Jobs).

Nine year-old boy named Islam Screened Out of Television Program

Nine year-old Islam Alaouchiche dreamed of participating in his favorite television program In Ze Bo_teon Gulli, a French children’s television channel. While he was pre-selected by Angel Productions to participate, those responsible for casting informed the boy and his mother that his first name was problematic and might shock viewers. Islam’s mother, Farah Alaouchiche, claims they told her that Having the name Islam is like wearing a veil for a girl. The program also allegedly requested that Islam use another first name for the program like Mohammed or Sofiane, which they felt would work better. Ms. Alaouchiche has sought advice from several community associations, including the Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitie entre les peoples (MRAP, or The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples) and the Haute Autorit_ de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l’egalite (HALDE, or the Authority Fighting against Discrimination and for Equality).

The HALDE’s decision on equality between pupils

HALDE (Authority to fight discrimination and promote equality) Decision on difference between Muslim and Hinduist pupils in a school canteen. Plaintiffs invoke a discrimination based on a lack of proteic meat substitute. Since plaintiffs and defendants first agreed on a mediation phase, the HALDE confirmed that an agreement had to be reached between the parties.

French schools accused of discriminating against Muslim mothers

A top anti-discrimination body has ruled that French schools were violating the rights of headscarf-wearing Muslim mothers by preventing them from taking part in their children’s outings. A group of Muslim women petitioned the French anti-discrimination authority HALDE after they were barred from accompanying school trips or extra-curricular activities. The school invoked a 2004 French law which bans students from wearing religious insignia, including Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans or large Christian crosses, in state schools. In a ruling dated May 14 the HALDE stressed the ban only concerns students, and that “the refusal on principle for mothers wearing the headscarf” to join in school activities was a form of “discrimination on religious grounds.” The HALDE recommended that all schools revise their guidelines on parent participation “in order to respect the principle of non-discrimination on religious grounds.” France, which has Europe’s biggest Muslim population, is one of the few countries to have passed legislation banning visible religious symbols in public schools. The law sparked a wave of anger and incomprehension among Muslims worldwide, but in France the controversy that surrounded its adoption three years ago has all but died down.

Headscarf Law follows Mothers on Field Trips

The HALDE promotes the principle of non-discrimination The High Authority for the Struggle Against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE) has found it “contrary to the principle of non-discrimination on religious grounds” that mothers wearing Islamic headscarves be excluded from accompanying students on field trips and extra-curricular activities. {(continued in French)} FOULARD STATUT DES M_RES ACCOMPAGNANT LES SORTIES SCOLAIRES POUR LA HAUTE Autorit_ de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l’_galit_ (Halde), le refus oppos_ aux m_res d’_l_ves portant le foulard islamique de participer _ des sorties scolaires est ” contraire aux dispositions interdisant les discriminations fond_es sur la religion “. Dans une d_lib_ration du 14 mai rendue publique le 6 juin, la Halde vient ainsi apporter une r_ponse _ une question jusqu’alors non tranch_e, sur le statut des m_res d’_l_ves accompagnant les sorties de classe (Le Monde du 27 mars). Pour elle, la qualit_ de collaborateur b_n_vole auquel sont assimil_s ces adultes ne peut ” emporter reconnaissance du statut d’agent public, avec l’ensemble des droits et des devoirs qui y sont rattach_s “, contrairement _ ce que soutiennent certaines inspections d’acad_mie. En effet, ” la notion de collaborateur b_n_vole est de nature “fonctionnelle”, rappelle-t-elle : sa seule vocation consiste _ couvrir les dommages subis par une personne qui, sans _tre un agent public, participe _ une mission de service public “. La Halde met aussi en avant un arr_t du Conseil d’Etat du 27 juillet 2001, pr_cisant que ni le principe de la_cit_ ni celui de neutralit_ du service public ne s’opposaient _ l’intervention, dans les prisons, de surveillants congr_ganistes apportant leur concours au fonctionnement des _tablissements p_nitentiaires pour l’exercice de t_ches relevant non de la surveillance des d_tenus, mais de fonctions compl_mentaires de soutien. ” Or les parents participant aux sorties scolaires semblent _tre dans une situation similaire ” car ils ” apportent leur concours (…) pour les t_ches qui ne rel_vent pas des missions d’enseignement, au sens strict “, souligne la Haute Autorit_. Et de rappeler que, selon le Conseil d’Etat, le seul port du foulard ne constitue pas par lui-m_me un acte de pression ou de pros_lytisme. La Halde donne trois mois au ministre de l’_ducation nationale pour ” prendre toute mesure n_cessaire afin d’assurer (…) le respect du principe de non-discrimination “.