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France: Private Nursery School Internal Code of Conduct May Ban Display of Religious Attire

(Nov. 3, 2011) On October 27, 2011, the Court of Appeal of Versailles found that it is lawful for a private nursery school to prohibit the display of religious symbols at work under its internal code of conduct. This decision is the latest in a court procedure that started three years ago. (L'interdiction du voile dans les crèches privées est légale, LEFIGARO.FR (Oct. 27, 2011).)

In December 2008, Fatima Atif came back to work at Baby Loup, a private nursery school, after a five-year parental leave. She was wearing a black veil that covered her entire body from head to toe. On several occasions, the director of the nursery asked her to remove her veil while at work, to conform to the internal code of conduct of the establishment. She refused and was dismissed for “grave fault.” She appealed the dismissal as abusive before the competent labor court. The court found for the school. It stated that the plaintiff showed “blatant and repeated insubordination.” (Flore Galaud, Crèche: le licenciement d'une salariée voilée validé, LEFIGARO.FR (Dec. 13, 2010).)

The plaintiff then appealed the labor court decision before the Court of Appeal of Versailles. The Versailles court decided to follow the opinion of the General Prosecutor, who asked for confirmation of the labor court judgment. He based his opinion on respect for the principle of secularism (laïcité), the vulnerability of the children to influence, and the fact that the plaintiff had knowledge of the internal code of conduct. (L'interdiction du voile dans les crèches privées est légale, supra.)

The Versailles court's decision came a few days after the Minister of the Interior issued a new Code compiling all the texts applicable to religious questions: the Constitution, international agreements, laws, regulations, and summaries of some court decisions. The Code is divided into four chapters: principles of secularism and freedom of conscience; secularism in public services; organization of religions; and exercise of freedom of religion. The Code will be regularly updated. (L'État publie une «bible» de la laïcité, LEFIGARO.FR (Oct/ 21, 2011).)