More than thirty years ago, France debated for the first time the subject of secularism, and more precisely the wearing of the headscarf at school.

At the origin of this controversy which was extinguished by the Council of State, three young college girls who refused to remove their headscarves.

On September 18, 1989, more than thirty years ago, France was to divide for the first time over the wearing of headscarves at school.

At the origin of this controversy, three young girls educated at the Gabriel Havez college in Creil, in the Oise: Fatima, Leila, and Samira.

Practicing Muslims, they have been wearing a headscarf for a year and refuse to take it off.

In the name of secularism, the three young girls are escorted home by a teacher: they will not enter college until they remove their headscarves, at least in the classrooms.  

"It's a bit racist"

For Samira's father, it is incomprehension.

He wants his daughters to wear the veil at school.

"You want to wear a hat, you are free. In my opinion it's a bit racist. They are 14-year-old girls, what do they know about politics?", He reacted on October 5 1989, with Brigitte Benkemou, journalist at Europe 1.

Quickly the Minister of National Education Lionel Jospin speaks.

He calls for dialogue between the management of the college and the families.

"I believe that we must take care of two principles: first of all to watch over the secularism of the school where we do not ostentatiously display the signs of our religious affiliation. But we must watch out for another principle, school is made to welcome children, not to exclude them. "

This is how the affair of Creil's scarves begins, but also of a heated national debate: is the wearing of the Muslim veil at school compatible with the principle of secularism?

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An avalanche of reactions

The affair gave rise to an avalanche of reactions: no less than 500 articles were written in the press in less than two months, while radio and television turned on the affair.

But at the college in Creil, everyone remains tight on their positions.

On October 19, these three teenage girls did not all return to class.

An intolerable situation for Cheikh Haddam, rector of the Paris Mosque, who feels indignant.

And when the reporters ask him what the meaning of this veil is, he replies: "Maybe it is a reaction to certain outfits that go beyond decency. Is that religious proselytism? Not at all. It is not. There are a lot of good Muslims who have absolutely nothing on their heads. A young girl asks to have her hair covered, I believe that is her absolute right. "

During this time, the controversy swells in the political class and the criticisms fall on the Minister of National Education.

From one end of the political spectrum to the other, he is accused of laxity.

About fifty Socialist deputies sent him a letter of protest.

And at the National Front Bruno Mégret, then MEP advocates an anti-immigration speech.

“Initially, foreigners settled in France, and now it is their culture, their civilization, their religion, their civilization that is settling in our country. It is the business of mosques, it is the business of the chadors, let us be careful! "

Lionel Jospin advocates "the sense of nuance"

Faced with criticism, Lionel Jospin decides not to enter the ideological debate and seizes the Council of State.

He tries to play appeasement.

"You have to have a sense of nuance, you have to remain human and common sense. So I do not feel at all stuck in these matters. But I do not want to impose rigid and uniform rules," he defends himself. 

A position that he will hold until November 27, when the Council of State gives its opinion: it is up to the heads of establishments to act on a case-by-case basis.

Wearing religious symbols is not incompatible with the principle of secularism.

A case law that will prevail until the law of 2004, which prohibits the wearing of religious symbols at school.