French lawmakers pass bill requiring ‘neutrality on religion’ at preschools


(JTA) – French lawmakers passed a law requiring “religious neutrality” in all educational institutions for children under the age of 6.

Proposed in a bill by the Radical Party of the Left, the law passed Wednesday states that all pedagogical institution “which serve a public mission” and are attended by children younger than 6 are “under a responsibility to remain neutral on religion,” the Le Figaro daily reported.

The law is a softened version of bills proposed following a lawsuit filed in 2004 by a Muslim teacher who lost her job at a private kindergarten because she was wearing traditional Muslim head covering. The teacher lost her lawsuit against the Baby-Loup kindergarten, and French lawmakers drafted the bills to cement the separation of religion from the work of educational institutions.

The new law could have consequences for dozens of Jewish early childhood programs operated by the Chabad Lubavitch branch in France. In Paris alone, Chabad operates 20 Jewish preschools, which, despite not being public institutions, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in government subsidies because they are recognized as carrying out a “public mission.”

Pupils at these kindergartens are taught about and according to the Jewish faith by rabbis and other instructors wearing Jewish traditional garb and kippot — a practice that could be seen as violating the new law.

The issue of public funding for Paris’ early childhood programs has featured prominently in heated city council debates, where far-left representatives are arguing for subsidies to these institutions to be cut because they claim the schools violate the principle of religion-state separation.

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