Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a video conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on Feb. 17, 2021.


On Tuesday, France’s National Assembly voted to implement tough new measures to strengthen the secular nature of state institutions and eradicate what President Emmanuel Macron calls the threat of “Islamic separatism” among the country’s fast-growing Muslim population.

The government bill to “reaffirm republican principles,” which passed by a comfortable majority, was tabled by Prime Minister Jean Castex in December in the wake of the killing of a middle-school teacher who had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his students as part of a lesson on freedom of expression. But the legislation had been in the works long before that, amid a debate about how to counter the radicalization of Muslims who believe their religious ideals should take precedence over those of the Republic.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, which does not have a veto over the legislation that passes the assembly, but which could propose amendments. Still, it is expected to become law later this year – just as France enters a presidential election campaign.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Macron’s championing of this bill leaves little doubt about whom he sees as his principal opponent in the presidential race, the first round of which is set for April, 2022. A runoff election between the top two first-round finishers will be held two weeks later.

A January poll by Harris Interactive confirmed a hardening of French public opinion in the wake of October’s murder of teacher Samuel Paty by a Muslim refugee and the stabbing of three Catholic churchgoers in Nice two weeks later. The survey showed far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen leading on the first ballot and losing only narrowly – 52 per cent to 48 per cent – to Mr. Macron on the second.

The results surely sent chills down the spines of Mr. Macron’s political strategists. In 2017, Mr. Macron had been able to count on an anybody-but-Le Pen wave among French voters on the centre-right and centre-left alike to demolish her on the second ballot, 66 per cent to 34 per cent. Since then, however, Ms. Le Pen has moved to soften her personal image, and she has continued to chip away at support for the currently leaderless centre-right Republicans party.

Ms. Le Pen and her five fellow National Rally members in the National Assembly abstained during Tuesday’s vote. Legislators with the Republicans voted against the bill, arguing it did not go far enough by failing to include measures to combat radicalization in French prisons and on university campuses.

Even so, the proposed measures go quite far, even by French standards. While an outright ban on home schooling was removed from the bill, it would still require parents to obtain prior state approval before teaching children at home. Such authorizations would be granted in exceptional cases only. Online comments targeting individuals, such as the criticisms directed at Mr. Paty before his murder, would be subject to fines of up to €45,000 ($69,000).

The bill extends the ban on the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by state employees to everyone who provides public services, such as public transportation workers. It makes it a crime for doctors to provide “virginity certificates.” A husband who refuses to allow a male doctor to examine his wife – in a hospital emergency ward, for example – could face a fine of up to €75,000 ($115,000). Community groups and sporting associations that receive state subsidies would be required to sign a contract undertaking to uphold republican values, including secularism.

Outright opposition to the bill in the National Assembly was limited mainly to the far-left France Unbowed party, which is accused by its critics on the right of practising a form of “Islamo-leftism” popularized by proponents of U.S.-style critical race theory.

Story continues below advertisement

A growing number of younger French academics have embraced the language of that theory to describe France’s Muslim minority as an oppressed underclass whose deplorable social conditions are a consequence of the country’s strict application of republican principles. Indeed, the French state forbids the collection of race-based data on the grounds that it violates the principle of equality; critics say that this prevents the enacting of policies such as employment equity.

In the run-up to the 2022 presidential vote, Mr. Macron has clearly staked his ground. Though he entered politics on the left as the economy minister under former Socialist president François Hollande, he has tacked increasingly to the right since moving into the Élysée Palace himself. In an October speech, he accused “certain social science theories imported entirely from the United States” of distorting debates over race and religion within France, which has historically viewed those issues through a republican prism.

With the centre-left Socialists and centre-right Republicans in disarray, however, Mr. Macron clearly sees Ms. Le Pen as his main rival as he fights to hold on to his job. Most signs suggest that he’s right.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies