Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system that teachers should rebuff by explaining the country's secular principles, according to an official report.
The High Council for Integration (HCI) reported growing problems with pupils of immigrant backgrounds who object to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, demand halal meals and "reject French culture and its values."
"We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle," it said.France's strict separation of church and state relegates religion to the private sphere, an approach challenged by a growing Islamic identity among some of the five million Muslims in the country's 65 million population.
"Teachers regularly find that Muslim parents refuse to have their children learn about Christianity," it said. "Some think it amounts to evangelisation."
"Anti-Semitism ... surfaces during courses about the Holocaust, such as inappropriate jokes and refusals to watch films" about Nazi concentration camps, it said. "Tensions often come from pupils who identify themselves as Muslims."
During Ramadan, some Muslim pupils harass others who don't observe the annual daytime fast, it said. Boys who identify themselves as Muslims and reject French values, harass girls who do well in class as "collaborators" with the "dirty French."
Some girls ask to be excused from gymnasium or pool sessions because they are not supposed to mix with boys, it added.
The report said French schools must insist on co-education, equal rights and mutual respect. "Being a French citizen means accepting challenges to one's opinions ... this is the price to pay for the freedom of opinion and expression.
"Must we recall that the crime of blasphemy has not existed in France since the French Revolution?" it asked.
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