Repeatedly postponed, the generalization of Universal National Service officially remains a priority for the executive. Pending the decision of the Elysée, the government wonders about the place of religion in the program. Jean-Rémi Baudot’s political brief.
It’s a question that comes down to intimate matters and personal conviction, but religion is also a question that cannot be completely dismissed, especially when you plan to bring together 800,000 young people of various origins each year for two weeks, as imagined by the Universal National Service. How to manage Catholic or Jewish holidays or a period of Ramadan for Muslims? And all this, while maintaining a secular framework.
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Sarah El Haïry, Secretary of State in charge of National Universal Service confirms: “If tomorrow, the SNU were compulsory, young people should have access to spirituality“. In principle, the SNU remains a republican commitment, but the ministry makes a difference between the day when the values of the Republic are supposed to be transmitted, including secularism, and the evening when young people have personal time. Time where religious practice would be free.
The government is walking on eggshells
The Ministry is considering the provision of places and especially chaplains, as in the Army, to accompany those who wish. For months, meetings have been held with the leaders of the various cults to try to find the right formula. Haïm Korsia, the chief rabbi of France, made two recommendations: first, to offer access to kosher food during SNU, as it exists in the army. On paper, no problems. But according to his entourage, he also asked to be able to release the young people on Saturday to respect Shabbat, the weekly day of rest for people of the Jewish faith, by extending their stay at the SNU accordingly. Here, it seems more complicated.
Among Muslims, discussions have focused on the idea of being able to group prayers. As for the meals, pork-free menus are systematically offered.
According to our information, the Minister of Education Pap Ndiaye and his Secretary of State Sarah El Haïry
wrote last month to the Council of Elders of Secularism to ask them for proposals to guarantee “freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship“, during the SNU. An answer is soon expected. Unsurprisingly, the government is walking a little on eggshells. Politically, questions of religion and secularism are always delicate, even explosive. Pap Ndiaye himself is currently accused of wanting to take control of the Council of Elders of Secularism.
A community refuses
In reality, for the SNU and the religious question, everything will depend on whether it is compulsory or not. If this is the case, young people may have several date proposals. A way to circumvent religious calendars. But some believers have already expressed their rejection. Like this small rigorous evangelical community which spontaneously wrote to the ministry to say that their children would never share the same table as young people of other religions… Living together and social diversity remain complicated to put in place.
The SNU system remains decried by many youth associations who denounce the desire to bring youth into line. In addition, we learned on Tuesday April 18 that Secretary of State Sarah El Haïry seized the public prosecutor after accusations of sexual harassment, racism and humiliation during stays in Hauts-de-Seine.
All these questions weaken the government’s project: no certainty that the generalization of the SNU will become a reality, and little chance that there will be any announcements on the subject before the summer.