Jacques Chirac: School must be a secular sanctuary

From a speech by the French President on the banning of Islamic headscarves in schools
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The Independent Online

School is a republican sanctuary that we must defend in order to preserve equality during the acquisition of values and knowledge in girls and boys; in order to protect our children; so that our youth is not exposed to the bad winds that divide, separate and bring us into conflict with one another.

It is not, of course, a question of making the school into a place of uniformity, of anonymity, where religious allegiance is forbidden. It is about allowing teachers and heads of establishments, currently in the front line and faced with genuine problems, to fulfil their mission with the assurance of a clear rule.

The debates on secularism, integration, equality of chances and the rights of women all beg the same question: what France do we want for ourselves and our children? We have inherited a country with a rich history, language and culture, a nation with strong values and ideals.

Everyone must be proud of France, our country. Everyone must feel a guardian of her heritage. Everyone must feel responsible for her future. Let us transform today's problems into tomorrow's assets by resolutely pursuing the unity of the French people. By confirming our commitment to an open and generous secularism such as we have been able to create year after year. By improving equality of opportunity, the spirit of tolerance and solidarity. By fighting resolutely for the rights of women. By uniting behind the values that have constituted and that still constitute France.

It is in this way that we will remain a confident, assured and cohesive nation. It is in this way that we can reaffirm our ambition to build for our country and our children a future of progress and justice.