The government investigated and prosecuted crimes against religious groups, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim violence, hate speech and vandalism. The government’s ban against face coverings in public places was confirmed by various court rulings. Following terrorist attacks on January 7-9 that included the killing of 12 people at the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine and the killing of four people at a kosher supermarket, the government mobilized to protect religious sites, especially Jewish ones. In particular, the government deployed 7,000 soldiers and 3,000 police to protect Jewish sites in the country. Citing the attacks, one parliamentarian spoke of a “new anti-Semitism” linked to violent extremism.
In the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis against a sports stadium, a concert venue, and other sites, in which 130 people were killed and 350 wounded, President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency. On November 20, parliament extended the nationwide state of emergency for three more months, effective November 26. The extended state of emergency gave significantly expanded powers to the police and other state authorities. The government was allowed to dissolve associations deemed to be working towards the serious disruption of public order. Prefects in all regions were given the authority to order the provisional closure of concert halls, restaurants or any public place. They were also granted authority to prohibit public demonstrations or gatherings, as they deemed appropriate.
After both the January and November attacks, the government condemned “cowardly anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic attacks.” It continued efforts to promote interfaith understanding through public awareness campaigns and by encouraging dialogue among local officials, police, and citizen groups.
On December 2, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that authorities had closed three “radical” mosques under the state of emergency. Cazeneuve said a police operation conducted in a mosque of Lagny-sur-Marne, an eastern suburb of Paris, led to 22 people being banned from leaving the country and nine others being placed under house arrest. Security officers found ammunition, “jihadist” propaganda, and an unauthorized madrassa at the mosque and related premises. Authorities closed two other mosques the previous week, at Gennevilliers, a northern suburb of Paris, and in L’Arbresle, a small town near Lyon. “The Council of Ministers will now dissolve these three pseudo-cultural associations which used clandestine prayer rooms on the premises,” Cazeneuve announced. “Such measures to close mosques because of radicalization have never before been taken by any government,” Minister Cazeneuve said.
A judicial investigation into a violent extremist cell connected to a 2012 attack on a kosher grocery store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles ended at the beginning of the year. Approximately 20 individuals were indicted on charges of criminal association with ties to a terrorist enterprise and weapons possession but had not yet been brought to trial at year’s end.
On February 20, a Paris judge issued international arrest warrants for three suspects in the August 1982 shooting attack at Goldenberg restaurant in Paris’ Marais district (a historically Jewish neighborhood) that killed six persons and wounded 22 others. The three men had been members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council or Abu Nidal Organization. The media identified the suspects as Norway-based Walid Abdulrahman (aka Abou Zayed), 56 years old; Ramallah-based Mahmoud Khader Abed (aka Hicham Harb), 60 years old; and Jordan-based Mohamed Souhair al-Abassi (aka Amjad Atta), 64 years old. Atta, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin who was believed to have planned the attack, was arrested on June 1 in Jordan and released on bail awaiting a decision on an extradition request. At the beginning of August the Paris judge issued a fourth arrest warrant for a Palestinian accused of taking part in the 1982 attack.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported 22 cases of authorities interfering with the community’s public proselytizing during the year and three cases where officials refused to rent community centers for religious celebrations. In October the Council of State ruled in favor of the Deyvillers municipal government, which forbade the Jehovah’s Witnesses from building a 1,500-seat prayer hall on land which the group had purchased.
In September the Versailles prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation for mental harassment, abuse of weakness, misappropriation of corporate assets, and bankruptcy and concealment against the Church of Scientology and a private company, Arcadia, following complaints by 12 employees of the company, who said its owner had joined the Church. Plaintiffs stated they were forced to undergo a training routine that amounted to psychological harassment. The investigation continued at year’s end.
The Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and to Combat Sectarian Abuses (MIVILUDES) continued to observe and analyze the activities of minority “sectarian” groups, including “new age” and other religious and “jihadist” groups, which it considered to constitute potential threats to public order. MIVILUDES coordinated responses to abuses, violations of law, and threats to public order, and provided assistance to “victims” of these groups. It offered training to public service employees (1,500 were trained between April 2014 and May 2015) providing support to families touched by “radical jihadism.”
As of September 1, the Ministry of Interior reported the government had convicted and fined 200 individuals for violating the law prohibiting face coverings in public spaces and government buildings since the beginning of the year. According to the ministry, the government had convicted 1,546 individuals since the law went into effect in 2011. In December Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated it was necessary to be extremely firm in applying this law and called on prefects to do so “with the greatest vigor and rigor.”
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.
According to the government, the number of prison chaplains had increased since 2008, and the government made efforts to improve access to food appropriate for prisoners with religious dietary restrictions, specifically by providing vegetarian and nonpork meal options. Prisons observed religious occasions, such as Ramadan. According to the Ministry of Justice, the penitentiary system employed 760 Catholic, 377 Protestant, 193 Muslim, 75 Jewish, 52 Orthodox, 111 Jehovah’s Witness, 10 Buddhist, and 50 chaplains representing other religious groups. In the general detainee visiting area, any visitor could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues, but could not pray. Prisoners could pray individually in their cells, with a 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 June 30, the Observatory for Secularism, a body comprised of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals who advise the government on the implementation of the “principle of secularism,” released its second annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals. The report recommended increasing the number of training classes in secularism offered to public and private sector employees. Some religious groups reported feeling targeted by this policy recommendation, and that increased emphasis on secularism negatively affected their freedom to practice their religion.
According to the Ministry of Education, for the 2013-2014 school year, the last year for which data were available, 17 percent of schools were private, and 13.4 percent (898,000) of primary school students were enrolled in private institutions. Of the private schools, 97 percent were Catholic; and 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.
According to media reports, public schools in certain localities provided alternative meals for students with religious dietary restrictions, although in some cases local officials challenged the provision of such meals. On August 13, the administrative court of Dijon rejected a request for an emergency injunction filed by a Muslim association after the mayor of Chalon-sur-Saone in eastern France announced on March 10 his intention to ban alternative meals in the city’s public schools. The court decided that there was no urgency to rule since no pork meal would be served to students before October 15. On September 29, the city council voted to end alternative menus and meals served with pork began to be served in Chalon-sur-Saone public schools on October 15. The mayor hailed a “first victory for secularism” on his Twitter account. The Muslim Judicial Defense League’s lawyer, Jean-Baptiste Jacquenet-Poillot, announced the association would decide if it would appeal the case before the Council of State – France’s highest court for administrative issues. The Muslim Judicial Defense League filed a separate legal procedure to address the substantive issue on whether nonpork alternative menus must be provided in public schools. A court hearing of this petition had not yet taken place at year’s end.
On October 8, Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) party parliamentarian Yves Jego introduced a draft bill making vegetarian meals obligatory in all schools as an alternative for religious minorities as well as vegetarians. As of year’s end, the National Assembly had yet to debate the bill.
In May the mayor of Beziers, elected with the support of the far-right populist National Front (FN) party in 2014, said on television that he kept records on “Muslim-sounding” names of schoolchildren enrolled in Beziers schools. He said he wanted to have his own statistics on the number of Muslim schoolchildren. “I know I don’t have the right to do it. Sorry to say this, but their first names tell us their religion. To say otherwise is to deny the evidence,” he stated. The city prosecutor opened an investigation but closed it on July 2 without taking further action.
By year’s end a court had still not set a date for the trial of three branches and three leaders of the Church of Scientology charged in 2014 with fraud, deceptive commercial practices, and abuse of public funds for allegedly teaching Scientology precepts in 1998 to children at a private school in Vincennes without the knowledge of their parents.
The Ministry of Education continued to sponsor nationwide courses and competitive examinations designed to educate students about discrimination and tolerance. It partnered with the International League Against Anti-Semitism and Racism (LICRA), an NGO, to educate students about anti-Semitism and racism.
The government adopted a policy change at the beginning of the school year in September, whereby parents were asked to sign a charter for secularism, a set of rules governing religious expression in schools established in 2013. Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem stated there would be no sanctions for refusing to sign the charter and schools would not refuse to enroll children whose parents refuse to sign it. She added, however, that instances where parents chose not to sign the charter should “encourage the school administrators and teachers to engage in a dialogue with parents.”
On October 16, the Ministry of Education distributed a 31-page “secularism notebook” to school directors. According to the education minister, the notebook was meant as a practical guide for kindergarten-to-high school teachers to assist them in “understanding secularism.” She said it specified “avenues for understanding and living secularity” in schools, and “provides benchmarks for educational dialogue and legal elements in case of a dispute or violation of the principle of secularism.”
In collaboration with Catholic universities and local mosques, the Ministry of Interior continued to provide funding for an education program in Lyon, Paris, Strasbourg, and Aix-en-Provence aimed at providing students, including future clergy members, with a broad understanding of national legal, historical, and social norms on secularism and fostering integration. 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 included French language training, since most imams came from abroad and did not speak the language, hindering communication with their congregations. Students were primarily immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa.
On October 12, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced an agreement with the Algerian government requiring Algerian imams to obtain a university certificate in secularism within the first year of their arrival in the country. The coursework for this certificate consisted of training in the French language, French institutions, and the requirements of the 1905 Law on separation of church and state. These courses were to be coordinated by the Al-Ghazali Institute of the Grand Mosque of Paris and offered at 13 universities. The training was generally expected to last one year.
On January 7, during their annual New Year’s meeting, President Hollande and top French religious figures condemned the attack against Charlie Hebdo committed earlier that day. Following the attack on the kosher supermarket where four hostages were killed, President Hollande called it “an appalling anti-Semitic act,” and Prime Minister Valls said “France without Jews is not France.”
On January 11, between 1.2 and 1.6 million people participated in a March for Unity in Paris to honor the 17 victims killed in the January attacks. President Hollande led the march, accompanied by more than 50 heads of state, political party heads, and religious leaders.
President Hollande and government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and stated support for Holocaust education on many occasions, including the February 23 annual dinner hosted by the largest Jewish umbrella organization, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF); the March 19 commemoration of the third 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 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup of Jews during World War II.
On January 12, Interior Minister Cazeneuve announced the appointment of a prefect (senior government official) responsible for protecting Jewish schools, synagogues, and community institutions. Speaking before Jewish community leaders on June 7, Cazeneuve stated that these sites numbered up to 1,354. Visiting a Jewish school in Montrouge and a synagogue in Paris’ Marais district January 12 to inspect security measures, Cazeneuve said “the republic is determined to protect” the country’s Jews.
During his address at the February 23 dinner, President Hollande stressed the government’s solidarity with the Jewish community and its commitment to respond to anti-Semitic incidents. He recognized the concerns of the Jewish community following a doubling of anti-Semitic incidents over the previous year.
On April 17, Prime Minister Valls released a national action plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism, pledging 100 million euros ($109 million) over three years to this effort. The 40 measures included in the plan were structured around justice, the internet, education, and allowing anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism to be considered as an “aggravated circumstance” in all crimes. The measures integrated the suppression of hate speech into the criminal code and allowed for individuals to take joint legal action against discrimination.
On June 29, government officials hosted Israeli counterparts at the first meeting of a new bilateral working group on combating anti-Semitism. Participants reviewed existing programs and shared best practices.
On July 23, the government signed into law the French-American Holocaust Compensation Agreement to provide compensation to victims of forced deportations on French railways during World War II. The agreement was adopted by the National Assembly June 24 and the Senate on July 9. It entered into force November 1.
On October 8, at a ceremony commemorating Jews deported in World War II, President Hollande reiterated the government’s intention to introduce legislation which would treat anti-Semitism as “aggravating circumstances” in the prosecution of offenses. Hollande stressed that anti-Semitism had “no role in the republic’s gardens.”
On numerous occasions, President Hollande, the prime minister, and other senior government officials 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 13, President Hollande denounced retaliatory attacks against the Muslim community following the January 7 killings by terrorists as “also attacks against the republic.” He added that “anti-Muslim acts, like anti-Semitism, should not just be denounced but severely punished.” In remarks to parliament the same day, Prime Minister Valls emphasized the country was not at war with Islam or Muslims. In March Interior Minister Cazeneuve issued a statement condemning attacks against Muslims and expressing the government’s determination to respond to anti-Muslim acts.
In September the government condemned statements of the mayors of Roanne and Belfort, who said they would only take in Christian refugees. Prime Minister Valls said, “You don’t sort [refugees] on the basis of religion.”
On February 25, following a meeting of the Council of Ministers, Interior Minister Cazeneuve announced a government plan to broaden the scope of its dialogue with Islamic communities. The plan called for a meeting with Muslim representatives on June 15 to examine issues such as “the security of places of worship, the prevention and repression of anti-Muslim acts, the civil training of imams, the creation of additional chaplaincies, and the valuation of the charitable, cultural, and educational works of Islam.”
The government held the first annual meeting under this new Islamic dialogue on June 15 under the auspices of the prime minister’s office. The closed-door meeting, opened by Prime Minister Valls and outgoing CFCM President Boubakeur, brought together 150 representatives of Islam nominated by local prefects for their “knowledge of the Muslim community and their respect for the laws of the republic.” Agenda topics for this first meeting included: security of places of worship and combating anti-Islamic hate crimes; construction and management of places of worship; training and status of religious staff, including military chaplains; and religious rituals (including halal slaughter, Eid festivities, and burial rites). While some journalists questioned the absence of an agenda item dealing with radicalization of young Muslims, the prime minister’s office said the purpose of the dialogue was to “listen and respond to questions from the Muslim community” and rejected any approaches that would “stigmatize” the Muslim community.
On March 3, speaking at Strasbourg’s Grand Mosque, Prime Minister Valls said he wanted to reduce “the reflex” of asking foreign states for financial support in building mosques in the country. He explained that “there are in France all the energies and necessary resources for Islam’s development.” Speaking later at the University of Strasbourg – one of six national universities offering courses in Islamic studies and theology – Valls said he wanted more imams and chaplains to undergo training in the country so that they “learn French, love France, and adhere to its values.” Valls added, however, that “there will be no laws, decrees, or government directives to define what Islam means. The state will never attempt to take control of a religion.”
On June 29, Interior Minister Cazeneuve announced that since 2012, the government had deported 40 imams, including approximately 10 deported since January, whom it considered to be radical. He stated the government was investigating 22 additional cases for radicalism.
On October 20, FN leader Marine Le Pen appeared in a Lyon court on charges of making “racist public statements” in 2010 when she said that praying in the streets by Muslims was comparable with Nazi occupation. On December 15, Le Pen was acquitted of charges of inciting hatred.
On October 6, the police disciplinary board sentenced a police officer to a two-year suspension from his duties over racial and religious hatred charges after he posted an anti-Muslim comment on his Facebook page. In a separate procedure on April 28, a Lyon criminal court had sentenced him to a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,441) for the same offense. The police officer appealed both rulings. No appeal trial date had been set at year’s end.
On May 15, center-right Republicans (LR) (former Union for a Popular Movement) party Vice President Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet announced that Robert Chardon, Mayor of Venelles (Bouches-du-Rhone Department), had been suspended from the party following his May 14 tweet that “the Muslim religion must be banned in France,” and that “followers of Islam should be immediately escorted to the border.” Chardon also predicted that Islam would be banned in the country by 2027. In an interview with Le Monde, Chardon called for a Marshall Plan in the Muslim world and said Muslims should practice their religion in their “country of origin.”
On March 18, a Paris criminal court sentenced controversial entertainer Dieudonne M’Bala to a two-month suspended jail sentence for praising Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four Jewish hostages and a policewoman during the January Paris attacks. Dieudonne posted his comment, “As far as I am concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly,” on Facebook following the January 11 national unity march. Two associations that filed a lawsuit as civil plaintiffs in the case received symbolic damages of one euro ($1.09) each. In its ruling, the court stressed Dieudonne’s demonstrable “hostility towards the Jewish community.” The prosecutor noted that Dieudonne chose to praise Coulibaly, and not Charlie Hebdo newspaper attackers Cherif and Said Kouachi, because Coulibaly specifically targeted Jews.
On March 19, a court fined Dieudonne 22,500 euros ($24,480) for making anti-Semitic comments during one of his stand-up shows in 2013, when he commented about radio journalist Patrick Cohen, “Gas chambers…a shame.”
On October 15, the Paris Court of Appeals upheld a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,088), half of which was suspended, against the anti-Muslim activist Christine Tasin and the director of website Boulevard Voltaire, Benjamin Jamet, for inciting hatred against Muslims. The case dated to 2013 when Tasin posted a note on Boulevard Voltaire expressing her wish to see a law passed banning Islam.
In response to a February 12 desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Saare-Union, President Hollande issued a statement condemning the acts and asked for “all means to be rapidly deployed to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous and barbaric act are identified and punished.” Interior Minister Cazeneuve called the act “odious,” adding, “the republic will not tolerate this new wound which damages the shared values of all French.” Hollande and Cazeneuve visited the site of the attack on February 17 for a ceremony attended by local Jewish leaders.
On April 15, President Hollande issued a statement condemning “in the strongest terms” the desecration of dozens of Christian graves in Saint-Roch cemetery, Castres (Tarn Department), saying, “These unworthy acts undermine the core values of our republic.” Police arrested a man on April 15. On October 19, he was formally charged with the desecration and placed under house arrest until his court date. No trial date had been set at year’s end.
In an August 3 statement, Interior Minister Cazeneuve announced that approximately 40 Christian graves were desecrated with headstones uprooted or broken in the cemetery of Labry, eastern France. “These unacceptable acts require a firm response,” Cazeneuve stated. Prime Minister Valls also expressed his “indignation” at the vandalism and called for strong measures to bring the perpetrators to justice. On August 4, the prosecutor in charge of the case announced the arrest of three minors. On August 5, two of them were formally charged with the desecration.
On January 8, citing lack of evidence, the Arras criminal court dropped charges against two men accused of the 2008 desecration of the graves of Muslim soldiers in the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette military cemetery. The two men were accused of having vandalized 148 tombs with swastikas and anti-Muslim graffiti.
On October 7, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo became the first European mayor to join Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism, an initiative calling on municipal leaders to publicly address and take concrete actions against anti-Semitism. Hidalgo said, “Paris, which is home to the biggest Jewish community of Europe, needs to be a pioneer in the fight against hate so that other cities can benefit from its expertise and commitment.”
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.