Yesterday, a French schoolteacher had to send back 1,300 packages of chocolate donated as a gift by the City Hall, when it emerged that the chocolates were shaped like crosses and Santa Claus. Accepting them would have, strictly speaking, contravened the law that was implemented last September, banning overtly religious symbols (including kippot) in public schools.
To a North American reader, this all seems bizarre: isn't religious freedom a right the state should protect, rather than limit? Isn't it ironic, don't you think, that a law which emerged partially out of a desire to stop religious coercion* imposes secular coercion instead -- which is just as bad? And is making everyone pretend in public they're all the same really the answer to France's integration problems?
Indeed, my first thought on reading the chocolate story was that now the law is affecting the French Christians, maybe they will see how ridiculous it is.
But perhaps not. For some original insight and historical context about why the French are so hung-up about keeping their schools religion-free, click here.
*One of the reasons for the law was to help girls who were being forced to wear the headscarf by their communities, against their will