The Conseil d'État’s urgent applications judge has turned down an appeal by two organisations and a trade union for a summary suspension of the ban on wearing the abaya or qamis in state schools. Based on the summary investigation, the judge took the view that there was no serious doubt about the legality of the ban issued by the Minister of Education and Youth on 31 August 2023. Following this provisional decision, the Conseil d’État will make a final decision “on the merits of the case” at a later date.
In a circular dated 31 August 2023, the Minister of Education and Youth stated that wearing the abaya or qamis in state schools was a conspicuous manifestation of religious affiliation prohibited by article L.145-5-1 of the French Education Code, enacted by the law of 15 March 20041. The La Voix Lycéenne and Le Poing Levé organisations, along with the trade union SUD Éducation, had asked the Conseil d’État’ to suspend the implementation of the circular.
On this occasion2, the judge heard the case on the basis of the suspension summary procedure (référé-suspension), in which the suspension of an administrative act is contingent upon two conditions: a matter of urgency, and the existence of serious doubt as to the legality of the act.
During the 2022-2023 academic year, there was a sharp increase in the number of reports of pupils wearing the abaya or qamis in schools. In light of the information provided at the hearing, the judge concluded that this trend was part of a process of religious affirmation, as was clear from comments made during discussions with pupils. Yet the law prohibits pupils from wearing conspicuous religious symbols or clothing that show, either in themselves or because of the pupil's behaviour, that they belong to a religion.
As a result, the judge took the view that, on the basis of the summary investigation, it did not appear that the Minister had inaccurately described the wearing of the abaya or qamis in state schools as a conspicuous manifestation of religious affiliation, nor misconstrued article L. 141-5-1 of the French Education Code by prohibiting the wearing of these garments regardless of any consideration of the behaviour of the pupils concerned.
The judge also ruled that the argument that the circular was too vague (in its definition of the clothing in question) did not create a serious doubt as to the legality of the circular.
On these grounds, the Conseil d'État’s urgent applications judge dismissed the appeal by the La Voix Lycéenne and Le Poing Levé organisations and the trade union SUD Éducation. Following this provisional decision in summary proceedings, the Conseil d’État will make a final decision “on the merits of the case” at a later date.
Read the decision (in French)
1 Memo regarding the values of the French Republic issued on 1 August 2023, in the official bulletin of the Ministry of Education
2 The urgent applications judge had previously heard the case on the basis of the freedom summary procedure (référé-liberté) – see Decision No. 487891, association Action droits des musulmans, 7 September 2023, and the related press release, “In the interests of secularism, the Conseil d'État dismisses the application for interim measures against a ban on wearing the abaya in schools”.