The French National Assembly — France’s lower house — approved the so-called Anti-Separatism Bill after seven months of controversy on Friday, with the government saying the legislation was needed to bolster the country’s secular system.
Passed by 49 votes to 19 and with five abstentions, the bill, which the French government claims is aimed at fighting “Islamist extremism,” will go to the Constitutional Council before President Emmanuel Macron signs the legislation into law.
Many French Muslims say the law limits religious freedom and unfairly targets them.
France’s main opposition parties, including the Socialists (PS) and the center-right Les Republicans, along with the French Communist Party, voted against the bill. The far-right National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, abstained from the vote.
In a fiery speech, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon railed against the “anti-Republican law” which he said was “anti-Muslim.”
The Muslim community in France says the law targets Islamic private education by introducing new executive tools facilitating the suspension or closure of Islamic private schools.
It also severely restricts home-schooling, forcing Muslim parents to send their children through the public secular education system where overt religious symbols like the headscarf are forbidden.
The bill was debated in a highly-charged political atmosphere in France after three brutal attacks late last year by extremists and radical groups, including the beheading of a teacher on the outskirts of the capital, Paris.
In October, French history teacher Samuel Paty provoked outrage by showing his students the blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) earlier published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
He was murdered outside his school in a Paris suburb by a Chechen teenager, who was shot dead by police soon after the killing.
Macron characterized the incident as an “Islamist terrorist attack.” He also claimed Islam as a religion was in a state of “crisis” and defended the blasphemous caricatures, which have hurt the feelings of Muslims in France and elsewhere.
Macron’s comments sparked a wave of condemnations by Muslims and activists around the world.