Bill prohibiting concealment of the face – Speech by Michèle Alliot-Marie, Ministre d’Etat, Keeper of the Seals, Minister of Justice and Freedom, at the Senate (excerpts)
Paris, 14 September 2010
Ladies and gentlemen,
Social cohesion depends on our ability to come together around common values and a shared destiny. Social cohesion entails the refusal to be inward-looking and reject the Other reflected by communautarisme (splitting society into separate communities). Social cohesion presupposes acceptance that others can look at you.
It isn’t a matter of security. It isn’t a matter of religion. A land of secularism [laïcité], France guarantees respect for all religions. She guarantees everyone freedom to practise his/her chosen religion.
We reiterated this during the consultations which the Prime Minister and I have conducted with religious leaders and representatives of the political parties.
Moreover, the bill covers all methods of concealing the face in the public space [places accessible to the public]. To live in a republic where no one’s face is hidden is a matter of dignity and equality. It’s a matter of respect for our Republican principles.
So the principle of a general ban on concealment of the face in the public space is combined with both deterrent penalties and educational measures.
No one may, in public, wear a garment designed to hide the face. The rule is clear, simple and logical. The scope of the ban can be inferred from its legal basis.
The ban is general in any public space. It has a constitutional basis: social public order. The concept of public policy traditionally includes three substantive dimensions: public security, peace and health. It also includes a social or “non-substantive” dimension which is no less important.
While substantive public policy implies proportionality between the aim and constraint imposed, social public order expresses the fundamental values of the social pact authorizing imposition of a general ban.
The concept is explicit in the case law of the Conseil d’Etat (1), but more implicit in that of the Constitutional Council. Several Conseil d’Etat decisions have clarified it. For instance the 1959 “Société Les Films Lutétia” judgement and “Commune de Morsang-sur-Orge” judgement in 1995.
The concept of social public order is also present in Constitutional Council case law. The Constitutional Council’s decision of 13 August 1993 on the Act relating to the control of immigration and that of 9 November 1999 on the PACS (2) are two examples.
In this case, to deem the ban on polygamy and incest constitutional, the Constitutional Council also bases itself on the fundamental values of social cohesion. Hiding one’s face behind a full veil is contrary to social public order, irrespective of whether it is forced or voluntary.
If forced, concealment of the face violates the dignity of the individual. Enslavement and violation of the human person are strictly incompatible with the Constitution.
If voluntary, the wearing of the full veil signifies a withdrawal from national society, rejection of the very spirit of the Republic founded on the desire for social cohesion. The full veil dissolves a person’s identity into that of a community.
It calls into question the French-style integration model, based on acceptance of our society’s values. It reflects a desire to see established a communitarian vision of society, one split into separate communities. It is therefore incompatible with our constitutional principles.
The general and absolute scope of the ban flows from its constitutional basis. (…)
The ban is general and absolute, but that doesn’t mean there are no exceptions.
Certain activities necessitate concealment of the face in public areas, without thereby breaching social public order. They can be justified on health or occupational grounds. They can also fall within the framework of sporting activities, festivals and artistic or traditional events.
The ban will not apply to any of these situations, provided they are compatible with the principles of social cohesion.
Ladies and gentlemen, Senators,
The ban on concealment of the face in the public space must be general and absolute. Penalties guarantee the effectiveness of this principle. The objective is as much to convince as to punish, to convince women voluntarily to give up wearing the full-face veil and compel those forcing them to do so to accept the rules of living together, the principles of social cohesion.
So a distinction is made according to whether the offence is committed voluntarily or as a result of coercion. If committed voluntarily, the offence calls for an appropriate tailored response. This is why the bill is based on a balance between education and firmness. Dialogue will have to take precedence over punishment.
The bill provides for the legislation entering into force six months after its adoption, with this period used to explain what the legislation means to all those concerned. This may lead to women wearing the full-face veil giving it up of their own accord.
Failure to comply with the ban provided for by the law constitutes a second-degree offence. It is punishable by a maximum fine of €150. Attendance at citizenship classes may be substituted for or prescribed in addition to the fine.
Forced concealment of the face, on the other hand, calls for much tougher penalties. The Republic does not accept violation of human dignity. It does not tolerate abuse of people’s vulnerability.
The National Assembly committee improved the initial text by providing for tougher, and thus more deterrent, penalties for those forcing people to hide their faces.
Forcing someone to hide their face is a crime. It will be punishable by a year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to €30,000. If the person forced to hide their face is a minor at the time of the crime, the sentence will be doubled: up to 2 years’ imprisonment and a €60,000 fine. (…)./.
(1) Supreme administrative court which also advises the government on legislation.
(2) (PACS – Civil Solidarity Pact) offers legal status to all unmarried, heterosexual and homosexual couples.