Dubbed as an “anti-separatism” bill, the law is widely seen as anti-Islam as its introduction is driven by fears of Muslims creating sub-communities in rejection of secular laws and values embedded in the French identity.

A man holds a placard reading
A man holds a placard reading "religion of peace" as protesters demonstrate against a bill dubbed as "anti-separatism", in Paris on February 14, 2021. (AFP)

The French parliament will vote on a controversial bill that the state argues is needed to bolster the secular system but critics say breaches religious freedom.

With an eye on 2022 elections, President Emmanuel Macron has championed the bill which seeks to tighten rules on issues ranging from religious teaching, online hate to polygamy.

It has been debated in a highly charged atmosphere in France after three attacks late last year including the beheading in October of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The law is dubbed the anti-separatism bill over ministers' fears that Muslims are creating communities that reject France's secular identity and laws, as well as its values such as equality between the sexes.

France, home to Europe's largest Muslim community, is still shaken by the succession of massacres committed by militants from January 2015 that left hundreds dead.

The National Assembly lower house is expected to vote on the legislation in the afternoon after a total of 135 hours of debates that saw some 313 amendments adopted. 

Macron's ruling party has a large working majority, meaning the legislation is expected to pass, but the upper house Senate will also examine the draft legislation in the coming months and could amend it.

Fight against "separatism"

French President Emmanuel Macron introduced the bill last year to fight "Islamist separatism.”

READ MORE: Protest in French capital against anti-Muslim bill

It is being criticised because it targets the Muslim community and imposes restrictions on almost every aspect of their lives.

It provides for intervening in mosques and the associations responsible for their administration as well as controlling the finances of associations and non-governmental organisations belonging to Muslims.

It also restricts education choices of the Muslim community by preventing families from giving children home education.

The bill also prohibits patients from choosing doctors based on gender for religious or other reasons and makes compulsory "secularism education" for all public officials.

Under the legislation, doctors will also be fined or jailed if they perform a virginity test on girls, while it also extends sanctions on polygamy.

One of the most contentious articles concerns home schooling, with the rules considerably sharpened to require official authorisation on grounds of health or handicap for children to learn at home.

But for the right-wing opposition The Republicans (LR) the bill does not go far enough, notably by not restricting the wearing of the Islamic veil in spaces like universities.

"It's a small law on a big subject," said LR MP Julien Ravier. The right, which has the majority in the Senate, may try to toughen it further when it enters the upper house.

Nearly 200 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday against the bill accusing it of "reinforcing discrimination against Muslims".

READ MORE: Lawmakers in France to debate controversial ‘anti-Islam’ bill

A US envoy on religious freedom last year criticised the bill as "heavy-handed" and it has sparked unusually critical coverage in English-language media, even prompting Macron to write personally to the Financial Times to defend it.

Analysts have said Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist reformer, has noticeably tacked to the right over the last months as he scents that his 2022 presidential reelection battle will come down to a run-off duel with far right National Rally (RN) leader Marine Le Pen.

READ MORE: How France's separatism law affects Muslim working-class women

Source: AFP