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France: Law to Help Youth Transition to Adulthood and to Further Equality

(Mar. 20, 2017) At the end of January 2017, the French President promulgated a new law aimed at helping young people successfully transition into adulthood. (Loi n° 2017-86 du 27 janvier 2017 relative à l’égalité et à la citoyenneté [Law No. 2017-86 of 27 January 2017 Regarding Equality and Citizenship], LEGIFRANCE.) The law is organized around three main themes: furthering the “emancipation” of young people and encouraging community service (id. arts. 1-69), encouraging the mingling of social classes (id. arts. 70-152), and fighting against inequality and discrimination (id. arts. 153- 223).

The first part of the law provides for the creation of a “general civilian reserve” corps (“réserve citoyenne générale”) that will expand upon existing civilian reserves and allow volunteers to participate in various public service missions. (Id. art. 1.)  The new law also creates a new type of leave for employees in order to encourage volunteering; salaried employees will be able to claim up to six days of unpaid leave, in half-day increments, in order to fulfill leadership responsibilities in non-profit organizations. (Id. art. 10.) The French government estimates that up to two million people will be eligible for this new type of leave.  (La loi “Égalité et Citoyenneté” [The “Equality and Citizenship” Law], GOUVERNEMENT.FR (website of the French government) (last visited on Mar. 14, 2017).)

The second part of the law includes provisions to improve the allocation of public housing, with emphasis on promoting choice of location, transparency in how housing is assigned, and encouraging the mixing of social classes. (Loi n° 2017-86 du 27 janvier 2017, arts. 70-116; La loi “Égalité et Citoyenneté,” supra.)

The third part of the law includes a variety of provisions meant to fight against discrimination. These include measures to help those who need to improve their mastery of the French language, a new type of public service entrance exam to promote diversity in the public service, and stricter penalties for uttering racist or discriminatory insults.  (Loi n° 2017-86 du 27 janvier 2017, arts. 157-223; La loi “Égalité et Citoyenneté,” supra.)

Constitutional Challenge

After the law was adopted by Parliament, but before it was promulgated by the French President, a group of legislators challenged several of its provisions before the Conseil constitutionnel [Constitutional Council], France’s constitutional court. The Conseil constitutionnel upheld most of the law, but struck down several provisions as being unconstitutional.  (Décision n° 2016-745 DC du 26 janvier 2017, Loi relative à l’égalité et à la citoyenneté [Decision No. 2016-745 DC of 26 January 2017, Law Regarding Equality and Citizenship], Constitutional Council website.) Among the parts struck down were provisions that sought to ban the corporal punishment of children, on procedural grounds. (Id.)

The Conseil constitutionnel also looked at several provisions that sought to increase the punishment for denial of crimes against humanity. While most of these provisions were found to be constitutionally valid, a provision that sought to penalize the denial of crimes against humanity that had not been recognized in a judicial decision was found to be an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech.  (Id.)

Among the parts of the law that were challenged by the opposition members of Parliament but upheld by the Conseil constitutionnel were provisions that replaced the terms “sexual identity” with “gender identity” in articles of the Penal Code on defamation and discrimination. (Id.)

Partial End to a Legal Anomaly

The new legislation put an end to a historical anomaly in French law, whereby blasphemy was considered a criminal offense in the region of Alsace-Moselle. The formal and final separation of church and state in France was adopted in 1905, at a time when Alsace-Moselle was under German rather than French rule.  (Loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Eglises et de l’Etat [Law of 9 December 1905 Regarding the Separation of Churches and the State], LEGIFRANCE.) German anti-blasphemy laws continued to be theoretically applicable there even after the region was re-integrated into French territory at the end of World War I, although, in practice, these laws have not been enforced for many decades.  (France, END BLASPHEMY LAWS (last visited on Mar. 14, 2017).) The law of 27 January 2017 Regarding Equality and Citizenship formally repealed the old anti-blasphemy provisions and extended to Alsace-Moselle two provisions of the 1905 law that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on religion. (Loi n° 2017-86 du 27 janvier 2017, art. 172.)  Other than these specific provisions, however, the 1905 law separating church and state still does not apply in Alsace-Moselle. (Les exceptions au droit des cultes issu de la loi de 1905 [Exceptions to the Law of Religions Stemming From the Law of 1905], VIE-PUBLIQUE.FR (French government website) (July 1, 2015).)