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Defending the freedom to teach

· ​French bishops discuss the reform ·

An attack on the very principle of the freedom to teach contained in the Constitution: this is how the French Bishops’ Conference has defined the reform of the detailed rules for opening private schools outside of a contract, which was presented yesterday by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the French Minister of Education, during a press conference in which she highlighted new measures to ensure the right to education for all children, with due respect for the values of the Republic and the freedom of teaching. In a statement – signed by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux and President of the Episcopal Council for Catholic teaching – French bishops express concern that the “freedom of teaching is in danger” as the reform would aim to replace the current rules of opening, which require the presentation and acceptance of a prior declaration, with an “administrative authorization” that is allegedly more restricive.

For many decades, writes Cardinal Ricard, the Church has given a great deal of attention towards freedom of teaching. Now, “this new structure of prior authorization would be, despite the assurances given, an attack on the very principle of this constitutional freedom, by establishing the conditions for opening educational institutions”. The bishops expressed their “concern and strong reservations” over a reform whose motives – most notably fighting against an outbreak of Islamic radicalization in schools – are nevertheless “rightfully examined”. This fight “is necessary, but not at any price and certainly not at the cost of academic freedom”, said the Cardinal, for whom the current system of declaration, “fully implemented and strengthened as needed, already responds to the legitimate control requirements of the State”. There is no need, therefore, to reform such important issues “with haste and inappropriate means”. “Our country needs peace”, concluded the President of the Bishops Council for Catholic Teaching, “when resisting the violence that afflicts it, and needs to uphold its choice for freedom when the democratic model is under discussion. I believe in the wisdom of common sense. I appeal to the responsibility of the Government and the National Minister of Education”.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 23, 2018

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