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05.02.2021 Europe

French National Assembly votes new offence against religious separatism

AP - Gonzalo Fuentes
LISTEN FEB 5, 2021
AP - Gonzalo Fuentes

A new offence of 'separatism' was supported unanimously in the French lower house on Thursday with 130 votes in favour and 4 abstentions. The bill is part of President Emmanuel Macron's bid to stamp out any behaviour considered contrary to 'Republican values'.

The measure was a key element in a new law which was originally aimed at halting the development of what President Macron described as a 'counter society' in a speech in October. Speaking in the town of Les Mureaux, he said separatism was part of a 'politico-religious project' methodically pursued by Islamists.

Amid discord within Macron's own LaRem party, the bill was renamed to focus not just on Islamism but on separatist religious behaviour in general. It is now called the 'Law strengthening respect for Republican values'.

Support for staff subject to separatist behaviour

The bill comes against a background of reports in hospitals of female patients refusing to be examined by male doctors and in the public transport sector of men insisting on working in all-male teams.

MPs voted last night that when alerted to such incidents, institutions be legally obliged to lodge a police complaint, if the person at the receiving end of separatist behaviour consents.

“It is important that those higher up in an institution involve themselves, it is not right for the public sector worker to be left alone [to deal with such situations]” said Socialist MP Cécile Untermaier, who had called for the debate.

“State-run organizations have the unfortunate habit of sweeping things under the carpet” noted MP Jean-Christophe Lagarde of the centrist UDI group, agreeing that without a legal obligation to file a police complaint, hospital and other administrations are often reluctant to take action.

Prison sentences
If the bill is backed in the Senate, in future anyone found guilty of threatening or intimidate a public sector worker in order to obtain special arrangements will be liable to up to 5 years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine.

If the offence is committed by a foreign national, the person could be banned from France.

The president of the French anti-racist and anti-Semitism organisation LICRA suggested in a tweet that if passed, the new law would help end "cultural, religious and political separatisms" which "for a long time had been slowly fracturing" the nation.

MPs also backed a bill which would make it an offence to hinder the work of a teacher. The bill was introduced by Anne Genevard of the right-wing LR party amid surveys showing that teachers are reluctant to discuss certain subjects in class.