Guide explains how to handle religious issues

October 15, 2004

French university presidents have for the first time issued a guide to the rules governing secularism in higher education.

While controversial legislation introduced last month banned state-school pupils from wearing "obvious religious signs", such as Islamic hijabs, Jewish skull-caps or large crucifixes, the law does not apply to higher education.

University students have the right to display their religious allegiances, although "wearing certain outfits may be prohibited during certain courses" for reasons of hygiene or safety, the guide says.

It covers contentious issues, including what religiously linked clothing and symbols are permitted for students and staff, and whether students have the right to be taught separately or refuse to take exams on certain dates for religious reasons.

The guide was compiled by Christian Mestre of Strasbourg-III university, former chairman of the Conference of University Professors' commission into student life and social issues.

The commission carried out an inquiry into 100 higher education establishments and found that about a quarter had experienced problems related to clashes between Republican secularism and individuals' religious convictions.

Michel Laurent, CUP president, said it was hoped the guide would provide university authorities with legal references and methods to help them deal with conflicts.

The guide explains which authorities are responsible for applying legal regulations, how to deal with students who challenge teachers over course content or for their gender or religion, whether students have rights to claim financial resources or to use premises for religious purposes and whether candidates backed by religious movements may be barred from elections to university councils.



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