The proposal, part of an “anti-separatism” bill introduced by President Emmanuel Macron that targets the Muslim community, follows an amendment that will ban girls under age of 18 from wearing a hijab in public spaces.

Protesters hold a banner during a demonstration against a bill dubbed as
Protesters hold a banner during a demonstration against a bill dubbed as "anti-separatism" and islamophobia in Paris on March 21, 2021. (AFP)

The Senate in France has approved an additional ban on religious practices, this time on prayers in university corridors, as part of a controversial “separatism bill” widely seen as targeting French Muslims.

The “principles of the Republic” bill is pending approval by the National Assembly before becoming law.

Discussing the draft bill, which has been criticised for alienating Muslims, the centre-right Republicans (LR) party proposed adding a clause prohibiting prayers in university corridors as well as banning religious activities that might hinder educational activities.

Although Left Party senators and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer objected to the proposal, it was accepted through the votes of the right-wing senators.

On February 16 this year, France’s National Assembly approved the bill which was then sent to the Senate for debate on March 30. It returns to the National Assembly after the Senate vote.

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

Religious intervention

It was introduced by President Emmanuel Macron last year to fight so-called "Islamist separatism."

The bill is being criticized 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 belong to Muslims.

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

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

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

Counter approach from minister

France's interior minister had earlier criticized two legal amendments adopted by lawmakers last week prohibiting parents from wearing visible religious symbols while accompanying their children on school trips and allowing public swimming pools to ban "burkini" swimwear.

Gerald Darmanin said the measures, approved by senators, amounted to "suppression of religious expression."

The "Republican values" bill is currently being discussed in the upper house, which also approved a third amendment preventing minor girls from concealing their faces or wearing religious symbols in public areas.

Though the text of the bill does not expressly mention the Islamic veil, the contentious issue of prohibiting mothers who voluntarily accompany their children's school trips from wearing the garment had previously been raised in the Senate on three occasions since 2019 and rejected every time.

Senator Max Brisson of the right wing Les Republicains tabled the amendment, arguing that school trips are educational and that neutrality must be imposed on all who participate in them, including parents.

Representing the government, Darmanin warned the house to "beware of this excess measure which would tip [Muslims] to the wrong side."

"I find it quite paradoxical that we absolutely want to suppress all religious expression of parents," he said, backed by Socialist Party Senator Didier Marie, who said the amendment would be "dangerous" for suggesting a causal link between the veil, political Islam, radicalism, separatism, and even terrorism.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies