Paris, France, Jun 27, 2019 / 02:17 am
France’s soon-to-be mandatory Universal National Service program for teens has drawn serious religious freedom concerns, with critics noting that the program prohibits religious symbols, does not allow conscripts to leave for religious services, and fails to accommodate religious dietary restrictions.
Marc Guidoni, a veteran trainer for the Values of the Republic and Secularism Plan, told the French Catholic newspaper La Vie that the program rules appear to be more extensive than French law requires or allows. He suggested that abstaining from any show of belief is usually required only for civil servants and public servants. Applying this to conscripted teens, he said, is “a strong obstacle to liberty.”
A June 24 article in the French newspaper La Vie suggested that the National Universal Service’s rules mean young believers are “forgotten.” Some program participants will want to exercise their freedom of worship, even in a framework that tends to erase religious difference, it said.
A pilot program of the national civic service began in mid-June with 2,000 teen volunteer participants aged 15 or 16, including high school students, drop-outs and trainees at vocational schools. In mid-June the volunteers left their home regions for service centers at boarding schools, holiday villages and university campuses.
They received training in first aid, emergency response, map reading and other basic skills. They will later volunteer for two weeks of service with a charity or local government.
The national service centers have five houses of 10 young people each, with each center under the management of a “brigade chief.” Each house has an adult supervisor but teens are responsible for tasks and household chores.
They are required to wear French navy uniforms and sing France’s national anthem, the “Marseillaise,” every morning. After training in emergency response, the pilot groups were to respond to simulated disasters such as a major traffic accident or a nuclear accident.
Both supervisors and young people in the program are forbidden from displaying religious signs except in private rooms, La Vie said, citing a source at the Ministry of National Education.