Religious demands rise in French state schools - study
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS (Reuters) - Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system that teachers should rebuff by explaining the country's secular principles, according to an official report.
The High Council for Integration (HCI) reported growing problems with pupils of immigrant backgrounds who object to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, demand halal meals and "reject French culture and its values."
"It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures," said the report, published in draft form by the newspaper Journal du Dimanche over the weekend. The final report will be presented to the government next month.
"We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle," it said.
France's strict separation of church and state relegates religion to the private sphere, an approach challenged by a growing Islamic identity among some of the five million Muslims in the country's 65 million population.
HCI President Patrick Gaubert told the newspaper his agency decided to study how pupils from immigrant backgrounds adapted to the state school system because "this is at the heart of the challenges that French society must face."
The report, which studied a wide range of issues faced by pupils of immigrant backgrounds, gave no figures for the extent of problems linked to religion but said they came up so often in the hearings the HCI conducted that they merited attention.
REFUSING CLASSES, DEMANDING HALAL Continued...