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France Is Test-Running A Mandatory Teen Training Program. Could It Impact Religious Freedom?

REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

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Mary Margaret Olohan Social Issues Reporter

French President Emmanuel Macron’s administration is testing out a compulsory training program for teens in an effort to boost national cohesion, but sources said the program could stifle religious expression of teens involved.

The Universal National Service, or SNU, is expected to eventually be mandatory for all French 16-year-olds. Teens will be required to participate in two weeks of residential training and then two weeks of community work, according to BBC.

Macron devised the program with the objective of boosting young people’s “patriotism and social cohesion,” according to BBC. (RELATED: Who Is Jordan Bardella, The 23-Year-Old Rising Star In Right-Wing European Politics?)

Students will wear navy uniforms, sing the French national anthem every morning, learn map skills, first-aid skills, and emergency responses to various situations, France 24 reported.

Some worry the SNU will stifle teenagers’ religious freedom.

They will reportedly be prohibited from certain worshipping practices their religion requires, such as attending Catholic mass during the training, according to a source from the Ministry of Education.

The source said teens are also not allowed to outwardly manifest signs of religion, such as crosses, while on assignment, but may do so in their own rooms.

After a consultation in January provided information pertaining to secularism in the SNU, the ministry source said months later, “the principle of secularism applies to both supervisors and young people: it is therefore forbidden to display religious signs except spaces private — the rooms,” according to La Vie.

Critics worry communal worship spaces that serve multiple religions do not adequately meet the needs of religious worshiping practices.

Marc Guidoni, an expert trainer of the Plan Valeurs de la Republique and Laïcité, pointed out that most religions do not consider worship an individual meditation in a common space, but rather a group meeting complete with traditional rites.

“Worship is not individual meditation in a common space,” Guidoni said, according to La Vie. “It is a meeting, a time when we meet, with a collective practice of rites.”

Matteo Comar, a 16-year-old spokesman for the National High School Movement, said the SNU in general is hypocritical and “indoctrination,” according to the BBC.

“It’s funny because the government of today is not at all promoting [the idea of] acting for community,” Comar said.

“The principle of the system is to be selfish — working for yourself, your money. So for them to come and say ‘it’s about community, we need to share things.’ Yes: we agree. But that’s not what they’re doing at all.”

Macron initially wanted the SNU to include military training, according to the BBC, but the army reportedly did not want to train teens.

Students are testing out a voluntary pilot program of the SNU, which includes an early wake-up call, singing of the French national anthem, and discussions of social issues, like gender discrimination and social inequality.

Political scientist Bruno Cautres said Macron does not want National Front leader Marine Le Pen to have a monopoly on patriotism.

“What Macron is trying to show to the French public is that there is no contradiction in being pro-European and patriotic; to be pro-European and to believe in your country; to be pro-EU and also proud to be French,” Cautres told the BBC.

The French Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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