Mar 22, 2021 | Patricia Duval, lawyer, for Human Rights Without Frontiers
The Bill on “reinforcing abidance with the Principles of the Republic”, which intends to eliminate the root causes of extremist Islamism in France, contained a general prohibition of homeschooling with special and limited exemptions, e.g. based on the child’s health. It specifically provided that no authorization could be granted for philosophical or religious reasons.
Not only did this provision miss its target as none of the Islamist terrorists could be traced to have followed a homeschooling cursus (which is not usually accessible to poor families with immigrant background) but it also ran contrary to the international human rights commitments of France, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The prohibition of the choice of homeschooling for philosophical or religious reasons was actually part of the French policy to counter the alleged undue influence of family or community on the children’s religious beliefs.
Since the enactment of the 2004 law prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious signs in the public schools, France has followed a dangerous trend of unduly restricting the sphere of freedom of religion or belief. Secularism (“Laïcité”) shifted from imposing religious neutrality to State agents, delivering a public service, i.e. the teachers, to being binding also on public service users, namely pupils at school.
This was followed by the adoption of a Charter of Secularism in 2013 posted in all public schools, to which the pupils had to commit. According to the Charter, Secularism protected them “from any proselytizing and pressure which would prevent them from making their own choices” in order to raise their critical mind through “scientific and educational questioning”.
In an interview given to the media at the time, the Minister of Education Vincent Peillon explained that in order to give the pupils freedom of choice, the State had to be able to “snatch them out of any and all determinism”, which included family religious background.
Prohibiting family homeschooling based on religious motives is in line with this derailing of the State’s understanding of its role, which shifted from being neutral in religious matters to somehow “deprogramming” the children of their religious background.
It cannot be the State’s role to go against the parents’ choices in matters of religious education. The State has not only a duty of neutrality but also a duty to ensure that parents can educate their children in accordance with their own beliefs.
Article 2 of the 1st Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights provides:
No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
In an article published in Le Figaro on February 9, 2021, the Catholic Families Association (AFC) re-asserted very clearly that “No, children do not first belong to the Republic”.
AFC President stated that the bill on “reinforcing abidance with the Principles of the Republic” negates the primacy of the educational role of the parents, in spite of the fact that it is a fundamental right protected by the international treaties France has committed to. The interview provided:
“We have seen for several years a questioning of the parents’ primary role as educators to the benefit of the State which tends more and more to orient the child’s education. Even though we are well aware of the urgency of combating fanaticism and extinguishing the hotbeds of terrorism, we should avoid that all the parents suffer from collateral damages of this policy.
Some years ago, didn’t a Minister of Education state to be willing to snatch the children from their “family determinism”, to rely on the youth to make the society evolve and that the children belonged to the Republic and not to the families? The denial of Homeschooling is clearly an infringement of freedom of education which is a right of the families.”
“Children belong first to the Republic, before belonging to their parents” was underlying the plan submitted in 1793 by Robespierre, the French Revolution dictator. Those revolutionaries wanted the children to be raised by the State and not by their parents.
This time is long past and may we be protected from dictatorship.
The prohibition of homeschooling had nothing to do in the draft Law on reinforcing abidance with the Principles of the Republic. It was rightly erased by the Senate Commission on 16 March on the basis of Freedom of Education, a principle with constitutional value.
Let’s hope that it does not get reintroduced during the debates at the Senate which start on March 30th or at the National Assembly when it goes for second review there.