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Video of college student praying sparks controversy

It’s a video of barely thirty seconds but which seems promised a great virality, in the middle of the electoral campaign. UNI, the student union that posted it on Twitter, says it was filmed on Monday February 21 at the University of Reims by “an average student, not politicized but outraged by the scene”.

On the images, we see, in a TD room, at break time, a young veiled woman – a priori a student – ​​who prays, kneeling, on a carpet. The author of the video asks her to stop in the name of the rules of secularism but this one does not seem to pay him any attention. A comrade, also veiled, indicates that she cannot stop in the middle of prayer and calmly asks her not to film.

The praying student is half hidden by tables in an almost empty room (there is a fourth student there, according to UNI). But for Jacques Smith, the national secretary of this union, “the mere fact of praying in a public place constitutes a promotion of religion, in this case Islam, which has no place to be”. This attitude, above all, “breaks the law”he points out.

Any exercise of worship is prohibited at the university

Contrary to what happens in primary and secondary schools, where almost all students are minors and where it is therefore deemed necessary to protect their freedom of conscience, it is not forbidden to wear religious symbols. , in particular the veil, in establishments of higher education, attended by adults. On the other hand, any public demonstration of his faith is prohibited there.

“Any exercise of worship is prohibited at the university, in accordance with the education code”recalls the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, by assuring that “an internal investigation was immediately launched”. “At the end of this investigation, the university will decide on the disciplinary proceedings and any other legal actions to be taken. »

For Jacques Smith, this incident reveals a “Islamization” of higher education. The national secretary of the UNI evokes precedents, such as the fact that the association managing the self-service of the Institute of political studies of Grenoble has recently considered serving exclusively halal meat. Like him, some on the right and on the extreme right consider that university presidents and the government show “laxity” against what they call “Islamo-leftism” and the – supposed – propensity to combine research and activism.

“We are far from the tidal wave”

Under their pressure, the Minister of Higher Education, Frédérique Vidal, entrusted the CNRS in February 2021 with the task of writing a report to better understand this phenomenon. An approach that was then very contested by others. The report ordered has still not been delivered.

During the examination of the separatism law, the Senate had voted an amendment, then deleted from the final text, to prohibit the exercise of worship within the walls of the university, including in the corridors or the sanitary facilities. Its author, Senator LR Stéphane Piednoir, evoked “40 attacks on secularism per year” in the faculties. “A figure to relate to the 1.6 million students enrolled in universities. We are far from the tidal wave”notes a university official.


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