From April 2011, when the ban on covering one’s face in public went into effect, to April 30, 2013, police stopped and questioned 705 women, with 661 convicted and fined. The government stated it had enacted the 2010 law prohibiting covering the face in public places to address security concerns. In practice, however, the law has prohibited Muslim women from wearing the burqa or niqab. Attempts by police officers to verify the identity of a woman wearing the banned face-covering veil led to two days of rioting, July 19-20, in the Paris suburb of Trappes. The woman’s husband was arrested for allegedly attacking the police officer conducting the identity check. An estimated 400 people demonstrated near the police station, where they set fire to garbage bins, destroyed bus stops, and threw projectiles at police. On November 8, the husband was found guilty of assaulting a police officer and received a three-month suspended sentence and a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,377). The woman was charged with violating the ban on the face-covering veil and insulting a police officer. Her trial was postponed so the court could consider whether a constitutional review of the ban on the face-covering veil was needed.
On March 19, the Court of Cassation, France’s highest court of criminal and civil appeal, ruled a Muslim woman’s firing in 2008 for wearing a head scarf at work in a private child-care center in a Paris suburb was not in accordance with the law, which bans conspicuous religious symbols from public schools and institutions. The Court of Cassation’s ruling effectively cancelled the woman’s firing and overturned a lower court’s decision, which had said the center had the right to set its own rules about religious neutrality. Per judicial procedure, the case was automatically referred back to the Paris appeals court to consider the Court of Cassation’s decision and make its own ruling on the case.
In its November 27 decision, the Paris appeals court ruled against the employee and determined the private child-care center was acting within its rights to terminate the employee for wearing a conspicuous religious symbol while performing her duties. Further appeals were possible in the case though no court filings had been made by the end of the year.
On October 15, the Observatory for Secularism recommended the privately owned child-care center at the focus of this case modify its internal regulations to make them more restrictive concerning the wearing of the veil. The Observatory for Secularism rejected the need for a new secularism law specific to the early childhood sector.
The government continued efforts to promote interfaith understanding and combat racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim acts through public awareness campaigns and by encouraging dialogue among local officials, police, and citizen groups. Government leaders publicly condemned racist and other forms of violence. The government regularly investigated and prosecuted criminal behavior directed at religious groups, including anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and other similar crimes. Prosecutors were ordered to seek maximum punishments for hate crimes and to appeal sentences not considered adequate.
President Francois Hollande and other government ministers forcefully condemned anti-Semitism and stated support for Holocaust education on numerous occasions, including: the March 17 commemoration of the first anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the March 20 annual dinner hosted by France’s largest Jewish umbrella organization, the Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France or CRIF); French Judaism Day on June 1; and the July 21 anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews during World War II. On March 17, President Hollande said “anti-Semitism has not stopped after the tragedy in Toulouse, where children died for the same reason as those of the Vel d’Hiv and Drancy, because they were Jews.” On March 20, President Hollande condemned anti-Semitism, which he said “is not only a hatred of Jews,” but also “a disdain for France.” He also said the fight against anti-Semitism must be waged through education and the Holocaust “must be taught everywhere, in all French schools and colleges, in our villages, in our cities, in our suburbs.”
On October 14, the police arrested three suspects in connection with a 2012 explosion in a kosher grocery store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles. The investigation into the attack led to the dismantling of a reputed Islamist cell across the country with eighteen people placed under formal investigation for association with a terrorist group, including fourteen imprisoned at the end of the year.
For the seventh time since 2006, the “comedian” Dieudonne was found guilty of inciting discrimination, hatred, and violence against Jews. Dieudonne appeared in court on October 17 to respond to charges that he ridiculed the Holocaust in internet videos and was found guilty of incitement to hatred. After Dieudonne appealed the court’s decision, the appellate court ruled against him and imposed a 28,000 euro fine ($38,567). Earlier in the year, two soldiers were photographed in front of a synagogue using the quenelle salute made popular by Dieudonne. The soldiers’ actions were condemned by the defense minister, who asked the army chief of staff to discipline the soldiers.
In a summary judgment made on November 13, a judge in Bobigny banned the sale of one book and censured parts of four others due to anti-Semitic content. All of the books were edited by Alain Soral, who was ordered to pay all court costs for the plaintiff, the League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA).
The government continued its efforts to extradite from Canada Hassan Diab, the prime suspect in a 1980 terrorist attack on a Paris synagogue that killed four people. After appealing the original 2011 Canadian extradition ruling, Diab also appealed an April 2012 order signed by the Canadian justice minister approving the extradition. At year’s end Diab remained in Canada.
On August 11, the Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of a soldier suspected of planning to shoot at a mosque in Venissieux, a Lyon suburb. The soldier was charged with the possession of ammunition and planning to damage a place of worship in connection with a terrorist enterprise.
On August 13, authorities in Avignon discovered anti-Muslim graffiti demeaning the Prophet Muhammad near the entrance to the Popes’ Palace. Police arrested an Italian citizen who said he painted the graffiti after an argument with several Moroccans. The Avignon Court convicted the Italian of “degradation and damage to a World Heritage monument.” He received a two-month suspended sentence. The Popes’ Palace and the city of Avignon lodged a complaint for vandalism, and the defendant was to be tried separately for religious insults.
The Ministry of Education continued to sponsor nationwide courses and competitive examinations designed to educate students about discrimination and tolerance. It partnered with LICRA to educate students about anti-Semitism and racism. LICRA provided educational tools, worked directly in schools, and organized trips to educate students about racism.
The government continued its efforts to demonstrate respect for Muslims, encouraging inter-religious dialogue, and stressing the importance of having more French imams and chaplains and greater control over foreign financing of mosques.
The Ministry of Interior continued to provide significant funding for an education program in Lyon, Paris, and Strasbourg entitled Religion, Secularism, and Interculturalism for 30 students per academic year. Initiated in collaboration with Catholic universities and local mosques, the program provided students, including future clerics, a broad understanding of French legal, historical, and social norms while avoiding theology. Government officials collaborated with academic specialists to create the curriculum. The training was well-received by the country’s religious communities and was open to high-level officials and clergy from all religious groups, as well as representatives of affiliated religious associations. Muslims expressed the greatest interest in the program, which also addressed the fact that most imams came from abroad and did not speak French, hindering communication with their congregations. The goal of this portion of the program was to develop an “Islam within France” and foster integration. The students were primarily immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa. On October 10, in Lyon, Minister of Interior Manuel Valls delivered the first “degrees of secularism” to twenty-eight French Muslim imams, teachers, and state employees who completed the program.
On numerous occasions, President Hollande and senior government officials, including the prime minister, met with Muslim leaders, including Dalil Boubakeur, President of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), and attended religious events. They strongly denounced anti-Muslim acts and stressed the government’s commitment to fight against acts of hatred directed against Muslims.
On August 1, Minister of Interior Valls attended an iftar in the mosque of Ozoir-la-Ferriere that had been the target of anti-Muslim graffiti in February. He denounced the anti-Muslim acts, saying, “Too many words, too many gestures and too many hostilities are targeting France’s Muslims today.” He also gave assurances that “the Republic will always protect the Muslims of France.”
On January 31, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned France for infringement of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion after ruling the government had violated article 9 of the European Convention on Religious Freedom by collecting taxes on the donations made to three religious associations, the Pyramid Temple, the Knights of the Golden Lotus, and the Evangelical Missionary Church. The court ordered the authorities to pay four million euros ($5.5 million) for material loss to the associations.
On February 22, France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, reversed a lower court decision and granted Jehovah's Witnesses the right to consult state documents concerning them held by MIVILUDES. On October 16, the Council of State ruled it illegal for penitentiary authorities to refuse to permit Jehovah’s Witnesses chaplains in prisons. Penitentiary authorities had denied the chaplains access to prisons on the grounds that the number of observant detainees was not sufficient to warrant their presence.
On October 16, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2009 fraud conviction of the Church of Scientology. The church had been convicted of pressuring members to pay tens of thousands of euros for personality tests, vitamin cures, sauna sessions, and “purification packs.” Five church leaders had each been fined from 10,000 to 30,000 euros ($13,774 to $41,322) and four had received suspended jail sentences of up to two years. The group announced it would bring a complaint to the ECHR.
Members of the Sikh community continued to express concern about the law prohibiting public school employees and students from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, urging the government to exempt them from this law.
On September 26, the United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded the government had violated the religious freedom of a Sikh man when he was asked to remove his turban for his passport photograph.