Criticism of secular watchdog on religious schools in France


Western Europe

Photo AFP, Philippe Lopez

In France, the National Secular Action Committee has issued a report pointing out “important abuses” in private educational establishments, especially religious institutions.

Secularism as a facade, biased historical teachings, discrimination: a survey published on Wednesday 9 March by the Comité national d’action laïque (Cnal) highlights serious abuses in many non-contractual schools, several French media, including the Roman Catholic newspaper La Croix, report. By examining the inspection reports of 164 of these schools –out of some 1,800 existing in France– the Cnal denounces shortcomings in teaching, particularly within religious establishments. The report was outlined in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Reactionary world view

The association particularly criticizes conservative, traditionalist and even fundamentalist Catholic establishments, in the forefront of which are schools affiliated to the Society of Saint Pius X. The Cnal denounces “a great closure of the establishments to the outside world and the maintenance of a reactionary world view among the pupils”. Non-mixing, less vaccination coverage than elsewhere, obedience-based teaching, absence of group work and obsolete textbooks are all characteristic of the Fraternity’s schools.

Even more seriously, the content in some subjects is said to be incomplete, sometimes even revisionist. The report cites a public school in the southwest of France, where General de Gaulle is not taught as a historical figure. There is also no trace of the role of Vichy in the extermination of the Jews or even of this genocide.

In another school, “the geography material carries a vision marked by a representation of the world by human ‘races’ (Blacks, Whites...), which poses a major concern of scientific misconception and potentially racist or at least racialist”. In other schools, classes are single-sex, boys are given responsibilities, not girls, French public radio station France Inter writes.

Legal action

The Cnal has issued recommendations for a stricter framework, writes. It has also referred to the French Court of Auditors to examine whether funding through donations, supposedly private, is legal.

The Cnal brings together teachers’ unions and parents’ associations. Since its creation in 1953, the organization has defended and promoted the secularism of the French Republic, particularly in the field of schools. Legal action from the local level to the Council of State is “part of the Cnal’s ‘arsenal’”, reports the committee’s own website. It is often a question of “limiting the funding from which public schools benefit”, which are “more than 96 per cent Catholic”.



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.