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Macron condemns those who use secularism to 'sow hatred and division'

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Macron condemns those who use secularism to 'sow hatred and division'
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Ian Langsdon/Pool via REUTERS
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Religion is once again at the forefront of public debate in France.

Just one day after an 84-year-old former far-right candidate fired shots at a mosque in Bayonne, French President Emmanuel Macron evoked the French concept of "laïcité" — secularism — during a speech at the inauguration of a European Centre for Judaism.

It's been defined as the concept of separation of church and state, but it's also been at the centre of debates about wearing religious symbols in certain public spheres.

"Laïcité is a tenet of fraternity that should live in each French person like a compass in their relationship to other citizens, that is essentially a form of French civility," Macron said.

"And I wanted to simply recall it at this moment in our nation's history, where these values of unity and cohesiveness are sometimes distorted and used by those who, seeking to sow hatred and division, use it to fight against this or that religion," he continued.

But as Macron gave his speech in Paris, French senators passed a text that would prevent people from wearing "conspicuous religious symbols" such as veils while accompanying children on school trips.

Wearing headscarves and other religious clothing at public school in France have been forbidden since a 2004 law banned conspicuous religious symbols in French public schools. In 2010, the government passed a law prohibiting people from wearing a full-face veil in public spaces.

The new proposed legislation was passed by a majority right-wing Republican Senate, but it's unlikely to pass in the National Assembly, where Macron's party "La République en Marche" has the majority.

Read more: Veil back in the spotlight in France as politicians debate new law

On Wednesday, the leader of the Senate Republicans in France, Bruno Retailleau, said that he wanted the government not to speak loudly, but to act.

Retailleau was referring to Macron stating in 2018 that wearing a veil did not "conform to the civility" of French society because of the value of equality between men and women.

Macron's sentiment was echoed by Marlène Schiappa, the Secretary of State for Equality between women and men, who said that although she thought wearing a headscarf did not help to liberate women, she did not support the proposed law to ban religious symbols on school trips.

"If we exclude [women who wear a veil], I fear that we will exclude parents of children in French [public schools]," she said.

Retailleau had been asked to pull the proposed legislation by French Senator Samia Ghali in light of the shooting in Bayonne, but he refused.

Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls supported Macron's words on the subject on secularism - tell BFMTV that his speech was important because "we are having a profound crisis of values."

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