The government regularly investigated and prosecuted crimes against religious groups, including anti-Semitic violence and anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech and vandalism. The government’s ban against face coverings in public places was confirmed by various court rulings. Government leaders publicly condemned anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and continued efforts to promote interfaith understanding through public awareness campaigns and by encouraging dialogue among local officials, police, and citizen groups.
In February additional suspects were indicted as a result of an investigation of an Islamist cell connected to a 2012 attack on a kosher grocery store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, bringing the total number of those indicted to 14.
On October 24, a Pontoise criminal court sentenced a man to four years in prison for burning down the same kosher grocery store, which was attacked in Sarcelles on July 20, when mobs chanting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slogans burned down the grocery store and three other Jewish-owned businesses in Sarcelles.
The Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and to Combat Sectarian Abuses continued to observe and analyze the activities of minority religious groups that had been labeled as “sects.” It coordinated responses to abuses, violations of law and threats to public order, and provided assistance to victims.
An interministerial task force against racism and anti-Semitism , composed of senior civil servants, continued to implement the government’s action plan against racism and anti-Semitism for the period 2012-2014.
According to the Observatory for Secularism, an institute established in 2013 by President Hollande to advise the government on the implementation of the principle of secularism and composed of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals, from 2011, when the ban on covering one’s face in public went into effect, until February 21, police had reportedly stopped and questioned 1,111 individuals whose identities could not be determined because their faces were obscured by masks or clothing. Of those, 1,038 were convicted and fined and 61 individuals were given warnings. The government reiterated it had enacted the law prohibiting covering the face in public places to address security concerns.
On January 8, a court found a Muslim woman guilty of insulting and threatening three police officers in a 2013 incident when officers attempted to verify her identity while she was wearing a banned face-covering veil. There had been two days of riots protesting the incident in the Paris suburb of Trappes, and the woman’s husband had been arrested for reportedly attacking the police officer conducting the identity check. The woman received a one-month suspended sentence for her actions against the police officers and a 150 euro ($182) fine for wearing a full-face covering veil. On July 1, the Versailles appellate court confirmed the husband’s 2013 conviction and his three-month suspended prison sentence and a 1,000 euro ($1,217) fine.
On June 25, the full plenary session of the Court of Cassation ruled the 2008 firing of a Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf at work in a private child care center in a Paris suburb had been legal. Confirming the previous ruling of the Paris appellate court, the court said a private entity could place limits on its employees’ freedom to express their religious beliefs in the workplace. The plaintiff announced her intention to appeal the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
In a July 1 ruling, the ECHR validated the 2010 law forbidding the full face-covering veil in public spaces. The judges rejected the request of a young French Muslim woman who said the ban violated her rights to freedom of religion, expression, and assembly. According to the judgment, the law did not exceed the margin of interpretation granted to states in implementing the European Convention on Human Rights. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it welcomed the ECHR’s ruling, saying the law at issue did not constitute an infringement of religious freedom or discrimination.
Members of the Sikh community continued to express concern about the law prohibiting public school employees and students from wearing religious symbols, including Sikh turbans, and asked the government to exempt them from this law.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported 29 cases of authorities interfering with the community’s proselytizing during the year. On February 22, the mayor of the Bajus commune threatened to issue a municipal order prohibiting door-to-door proselytizing if the Jehovah’s Witnesses community did not stop these activities on their own.
On July 22, a Lyon court annulled a 2013 ruling ordering the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison to provide halal meals for Muslim prisoners. The Court ruled “given the possibility for detainees to get meals without pork or vegetarian meals, to get special meals during the main holidays, and given the possibility to buy halal meat,” prisoner rights were already being respected.
According to the government, the number of prison chaplains had increased since 2008 and efforts were made to improve access to food appropriate for prisoners with religious dietary restrictions, specifically by providing vegetarian and non-pork meal options. Religious occasions, such as Ramadan, were observed in prisons. According to the Ministry of Justice, the penitentiary system employed 668 Catholic, 339 Protestant, 185 Muslim, 75 Jewish, 30 Orthodox, and 35 “other” chaplains. In the general detainee visiting area, any visitor could bring objects of worship to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues, but could not pray. Prisoners could pray individually in their cells, with the chaplain in the designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments in which they could receive family for up to 48 hours.
On January 13, the manager of the penitentiary administration notified the authorities who issued chaplain certifications to begin granting these certifications to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Approximately 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses were certified to officiate as chaplains in 190 prisons. In 2013 the Council of State, the highest administrative court, ruled it illegal for penitentiary authorities to refuse to permit Jehovah’s Witnesses chaplains in prisons. Penitentiary authorities had denied the chaplains access to prisons on the grounds that the number of observant detainees was not sufficient to warrant their presence.
On May 15, the Observatory for Secularism released its first annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals. The report recommended that the charter for secularism, developed in 2013 by National Education Minister Vincent Peillon for public schools to outline the main principles of the law separating church and state, also be posted in private schools receiving government funds.
According to Ministry of Education, for the 2012-2013 school year, the last year for which data was available, nearly 16 percent of schools were private and 13.4 percent of primary school students (898,000) were enrolled in private institutions. Of the private schools, 97 percent were Catholic; the remaining private schools were Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, or not religiously affiliated. There were two million primary and secondary school students attending 8,970 Catholic schools, and 30,500 Jewish students attending approximately 300 Jewish schools. There were also small numbers of students attending Protestant and Muslim schools.
Public schools made an effort to supply special meals for students with religious dietary restrictions.
The Ministry of Education continued to sponsor nationwide courses and competitive examinations designed to educate students about discrimination and tolerance. It partnered with the NGO League against Racism and Anti-Semitism to educate students about anti-Semitism and racism.
The Ministry of Interior continued to provide funding for an education program in Lyon, Paris, Strasbourg, and Aix-en-Provence, in collaboration with Catholic universities and local mosques, to provide students, including future clergy members, with a broad understanding of French legal, historical, and social norms on secularism. Government officials collaborated with academic specialists to create the curriculum. The training was open to high level officials and clergy from all religious groups, as well as representatives of affiliated religious associations. Muslims expressed the greatest interest in the program, which also addressed the fact that most imams came from abroad and did not speak French, hindering communication with their congregations. The goal of this portion of the program was to develop an “Islam within France” and foster integration. The students were primarily immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa.
On May 14, a trial court in Nice removed the 8-year-old daughter of a Jehovah’s Witness woman from her mother’s full custody, setting joint custody with the child’s father, and forbade the mother from practicing her religion with the child. The judge transferred the file to the court’s public prosecutor because the mother’s religious affiliation “leads to sectarian deviations likely to have consequences on the child’s education.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a request to the Minister of the Interior asking the government to rename a small village named La Mort aux Juifs (Death to Jews). The Interior Ministry requested the municipal council of Courtemaux change the village’s name, and the council approved a name change in December.
On January 21, the public prosecutor of Paris announced the establishment of training in coordination with the Holocaust Memorial for perpetrators of anti-Semitic, racist, or xenophobic acts. Courts could require individuals who pled guilty or were found guilty of committing racially and religiously motivated crimes, including hate speech, to attend the two-day training.
On January 9, President Hollande used his annual New Year’s meeting with top French religious figures to condemn anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts and to renew his government’s opposition to intolerance.
President Hollande and other government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and stated support for Holocaust education on numerous occasions, including: the March 4 annual dinner hosted by the largest Jewish umbrella organization, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF); the March 19 commemoration of the second anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 27 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; the June 1 French Judaism Day observance; and the July 21 anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews during World War II.
At the March 4 dinner President Hollande acknowledged anti-Semitism was a reality in France and said he had asked his administration to propose measures to increase the government’s reactiveness and resources for responding to the digital spread of racist and anti-Semitic messages. At the March 19 commemoration Prime Minister Ayrault expressed the government’s commitment to fight against racist and anti-Semitic acts. At the July 21 Vel d’Hiv commemoration, Prime Minister Manuel Valls denounced “a new form of anti-Semitism” spreading “on the internet, on networks, in working class areas among young people who are often aimless, who have no awareness of history, who hide their hatred of the Jews behind the facade of anti-Zionism and behind hatred of the Israeli State.”
On July 22, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius issued a joint statement with the German and Italian Foreign Ministers declaring anti-Semitism “cannot be tolerated in our societies in Europe. We strongly condemn the outrageous anti-Semitic statements, demonstrations, and attacks in our countries in recent days… Nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies any such transgressions in Europe. We will do the utmost – jointly and in our countries – to make sure that all our fellow citizens can continue to live in peace and security.”
On numerous occasions, President Hollande and senior government officials, including the prime minister, met with leaders from the Muslim community, including Dalil Boubakeur, President of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM). They strongly denounced anti-Muslim acts and stressed the government’s commitment to fight against acts of hatred directed against Muslims.
On January 17, Minister-Delegate for Urban Affairs Francois Lamy met with the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) to discuss anti-Muslim acts and secularism. The CCIF praised the meeting, which was the first of its kind between a government official and the collective.
On February 18, speaking at Paris’ Grand Mosque ahead of the commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and the 70th anniversary of D-Day, President Hollande honored 100,000 Muslims who died fighting for France in both world wars. “France will never forget the price of the blood shed,” he said, emphasizing Islam was “perfectly compatible with the values of France.”
On July 25, Prime Minister Valls attended an iftar in the mosque of Evry-Courcouronnes. He deplored anti-Muslim acts, saying “Today, too many words, too many acts are targeting France’s Muslims.”
In a July 28 joint statement, Foreign Minister Fabius and Interior Minister Cazeneuve condemned the widespread acts of violence against Christian communities in Iraq and Syria and pledged the government would offer asylum to those seeking refuge from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). As of September more than 500 Iraqi Christians had sought refuge in the country.
On January 6, then Interior Minister Valls sent a memo to local prefects, the most senior representatives of the central government at the local level, urging them to remind mayors of their right to ban performances by controversial performer Dieudonne, who had been fined seven times for inciting discrimination, hatred, and violence against Jews. The memo stated the fight against racism and anti-Semitism was a top government priority and mayors could prohibit performances by Dieudonne for threatening public order.
In a January 9 ruling, the Council of State overturned a decision earlier the same day in which a Nantes court had granted permission to Dieudonne to perform in the city. In its ruling, the Council of State cited “the risk to public order” and “offense to dignity” to justify the ban. On February 12, a Paris Court ordered Dieudonne to remove two sections of a video he had posted online on the grounds the passages violated laws against Holocaust denial and incitement to racial hatred.
On June 20, a court in Paris dismissed a hate speech lawsuit filed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF) against Dieudonne after he posted a video online in April. In the video he called for “the non-Jews to revolt and mobilize against occupation and servitude imposed by French Jews.” The UEJF appealed the ruling.
On February 25, a Lons-le-Saunier criminal court sentenced a 23-year-old man to a six month suspended jail sentence and a 800 euro ($973) fine for praising terrorism and inciting racial hatred in a video posted online, where he presented himself as the “new Mohammed Merah” (a terrorist who carried out several shootings, including at a Jewish school) and used anti-Semitic language.
Hassan Diab was extradited from Canada on November 14, after a six-year legal battle. On November 15, authorities indicted and charged him with murder, attempted murder, and destruction of property using an explosive device as part of an organized group. Diab was the prime suspect in a 1980 terrorist attack on a Paris synagogue that killed four people and wounded 40 others. He was placed in provisional detention, under which an accused person is detained until trial.
On April 8, the Arras criminal court postponed until December the trial of two men accused of the 2013 desecration of the graves of Muslim soldiers in the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette military cemetery. The two men were accused of having vandalized 148 Muslim tombs with swastikas and anti-Muslim graffiti. No further information on the case was available at year’s end.
On September 17, the Mamoudzou criminal court on the island of Mayotte sentenced two women to nine months confinement, with six months suspended, and a gendarme to a six-month suspended prison sentence for inciting religious hatred after they placed a pig’s head outside a mosque in Mayotte on New Year’s Eve. The three were also ordered to pay compensation of 25,000 euros ($30,400) to the mosque’s association. The minister for overseas territories and departments and the local prefect condemned the act of desecration.
On January 13, the Paris appellate court formally charged three branches and three leaders of the Church of Scientology with fraud, deceptive commercial practices, and abuse of public funds, following accusations that a private school based in Vincennes taught Scientology precepts to approximately 50 children without the knowledge of their parents in 1998. No trial date had been set at year’s end.
In July the Versailles prosecutor office opened a preliminary investigation of the Church of Scientology following reports of harassment of 12 employees of a company whose owner had joined the church. Plaintiffs said they were forced to undergo a training routine which amounted to psychological harassment. The investigation continued at year’s end.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.