Posted on July 26, 2021

France Adopts Laws to Combat Terrorism, but Critics Call Them Overreaching

Aurelien Breeden, New York Times, July 23, 2021

French lawmakers have adopted two bills the government says will strengthen its ability to fight terrorism and Islamist extremism following a series of attacks that have hardened feelings of insecurity ahead of next year’s presidential election.


One of the new laws gives France’s security services more tools to keep track of suspected terrorists and surveil them online; it was adopted late Thursday by the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, by a vote of 108 to 20.

The other, passed on Friday by the same chamber by a vote of 49 to 19, aims to combat extremist ideas at every level of French society. Among a range of steps, it toughens conditions for home-schooling, tightens rules for associations seeking state subsidies, and gives the authorities new powers to close places of worship seen as condoning hateful or violent ideas.

Both measures had been pushed by President Emmanuel Macron and his government as necessary responses to a persistent threat posed by Islamist extremism against France’s ideals, especially secularism, and its security.

“We are giving ourselves the means to fight against those who misuse religion to attack the values of the Republic,” Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said on Twitter.

In the past year, people identified as Islamist extremists fatally stabbed a police officer, killed three people at a basilica in Nice and decapitated a schoolteacher near Paris who had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class discussion on free speech. As recently as this week, the government told the authorities around the country to be on high alert after Al Qaeda issued a video threatening France over those cartoons.


The law on Islamist extremism is wide ranging, with a raft of measures that seek to root out what the government sees as the sources of extremism in every corner of French society. {snip}

The law changes the rules governing home-schooling by making it mandatory for parents to seek authorization from the state — previously, parents needed only to officially declare their intentions — and by restricting the reasons that would warrant such an authorization.


The law also extends strict religious neutrality obligations beyond civil servants to anyone who is a private contractor of a public service, like bus drivers. It makes associations seeking state subsidies sign a commitment to “respect the principles and the values of the Republic.” And, it bans health professionals from issuing “virginity certificates” before religious marriages.

One article of the new law, added after the decapitation of the schoolteacher — whose killing came after videos criticizing him widely circulated on social media — criminalizes the act of publishing someone’s private information online if there is clear intent to put them in harm’s way.