France has been enforcing laws against “religious garb” to force a more secular society. This has largely affected Muslim women who wear hijabs. Many French Muslims believe that these laws are manipulated to push Islamophobic ideas. The 2004 law that dictates the rule of secularity in education centers states that veils, the Jewish kippah, and Christian crosses are not allowed to be worn in schools. However, “discreet religious signs” are permitted under the law. The line is hard to draw. A case in Charleville-Mezieres in the northern Champagne-Ardenne region has made that clear.
Her outfit apparently was not neutral enough
A 15-year-old Muslim girl named Sarah, and at least five other girls at the Leo Lagrange School would wear long skirts to school. They followed the rules and removed their hijabs before entering the campus. But even that was not enough to appease the law. Sarah was banned from class twice for wearing a long black skirt. What is religious about a skirt? According to the school, the concealing and conservative skirt was seen as too openly religious. The headteacher stated that the skirt conspicuously showed a religious affiliation; therefore, she was not allowed to enter class.
“The girl was not excluded, she was asked to come back with a neutral outfit and it seems her father did not want the student to come back to school,” local education official Patrice Dutot told the French news agency AFP.
She believes she did nothing wrong, but they are sticking to their decision
Sarah told a local newspaper that her outfit was “nothing special, it’s very simple, there’s nothing conspicuous. There is no religious sign whatsoever.” The education offices disagree and say that the girls conspired to wear the skirts and show religious solidarity. “It was a concerted action … with a will to put a (religious) identity on display,” said Patrice Dutot, inspector of the Ardennes Academy that oversees schools in the area. The regional education office released a statement proclaiming that:
“When it comes to concerted protest actions by students, which follow other more visible incidents linked for instance to wearing the veil, the secular framework for education must be firmly reminded and guaranteed.”
Most are on her side
The case has incited outrage in the country, particularly on social media. The situation sparked a popular Twitter hashtag #jeportemajupecommejeveux, which means “I wear my skirt as I like”. The hashtag has gotten 45,000 tweets so far. Nicolas Cadene, an official advising the prime minister on secular issues, said that wearing a long black skirt to school does not break the rules.
There is a growing fear that schools are taking the secularism law too far. According to local media outlets, eight Muslim students were forced to change their long skirts in Montpellier last month. It is reported that approximately 130 students were barred from entering their classes last year because their outfits were considered too conspicuously religious.