French lawmakers approve bill to battle radical Islam

France’s lower house of parliament votes in favor of a law to battle “Islamist separatism” that is billed by the government as a riposte to religious groups attempting to undermine the secular state.

The draft legislation, which has been criticized for stigmatizing Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups, is backed by a clear majority of MPs in the National Assembly.

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party rallies around the law, with 347 National Assembly lawmakers voting in favor, 151 against and 65 abstaining.

French President Emmanuel Macron wears a face mask on August 26, 2020 (Ludovic Marin / AFP)

The text will now be submitted to the upper house Senate, where Macron’s party does not hold a majority.

“It’s an extremely strong secular offensive,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told RTL radio ahead of the vote. “It’s a tough text… but necessary for the republic.”

Among the more than 70 separate articles, the law expands the ability of the state to close places of worship and religious schools, as well as to ban extremist preachers.

Amid concerns about the funding of mosques by Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, it requires religious groups to declare large foreign donations and have their accounts certified.

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