The European center for law and justice ECLJ report on the case of a French teacher who has been suspended for arranging arranging a debate which looked at both sides of the abortion issue in France
The following is the ECLJ release on the issue
ECLJ - Strasbourg, March 23, 2011.
Mr Philippe Isnard, a teacher of history and geography at Manosque, France, was suspended for four months on 23rd November 2010 and is currently undergoing disciplinary proceedings for showing his students videos and pictures on abortion while discussing French abortion law. Mr. Isnard’s story not only raises issues as to the neutrality of the national education on the issue of right to life and abortion but also impartiality of the media as Mr Isnard has fallen victim to censorship and misrepresentation. Mr. Isnard may be dismissed.
The teacher points out that the French history, geography and civics curriculum requires teachers to organise debates on social issues, including contradictory documents. Like every year, Mr Isnard organised one such debate on abortion in October 2010, inviting students to participate and provide their own material if they wished. He introduced several documents and films to highlight both sides of the topic. He discussed the text of the 1975 abortion law, read a speech by Simone Veil defending the legislation and played short documentaries to the class (“Sois un homme”, “SOS, femme en détresse” and “No need to argue”) as well as showing an image of a 12 week old foetus.
This information was not imparted by Mr. Isnard against the will of the students as the students had the option to abstain from watching the film and viewing the photos if they so wished. The students – aged about 15-16 years old - were not obliged to remain in the classroom for the debate. Mr Isnard never prevented anyone from expressing themselves and respected all his students, and tried to deliver information from a scientific point of view. The aim was not to shock but to spread the truth, science and to educate his students. This information would hopefully lead to the prevention of abortion among the youth.
Nevertheless, despite this pluralist, critical and objective approach assumed by Mr Isnard in the classroom, he has been subjected to disciplinary proceedings.
Based on a denunciation from pro-abortion activists, the French education minister has denounced the teacher’s alleged actions asserting. “What has happened is unacceptable. Professors are under obligation to respect neutrality, and to have respect for the person.” Mr Philippe Isnard has been immediately suspended for four months, and may be permanently removed from the French national education administration.
On the 9th of March there was a joint disciplinary committee hearing for Mr Isnard after an investigation took place. The committee will make a non-binding decision as to whether Mr Isnard should be permanently removed from the national education administration. Mr Isnard asked the ECLJ to testify in his favour. The decision is expected to take several weeks.
It is clear that Mr Isnard was instigating an informative debate amongst his students by also issuing them with pro-choice documentation in the classroom as well as the ‘No need to argue film’. Mr Isnard was not targeted for distributing the documents containing the text of the Veil law (1975 French law decriminalising abortion) or other pro-choice material. On the contrary, it is solely the transmission of the pro-life material which led to his suspension. This favouring of the distribution of information on pro-choice rather than pro-life information raises serious questions regarding the supposed principle of neutrality in the French education system with regard to the right to life.
In order to counterbalance the debate, the school invited Planned Parenthood to come to the school to “explain” abortion rights. The students were taken in groups of five and given two hour seminars to this effect.
After Mr Isnard was suspended, his students have all expressed their support for their teacher, signing a petition of support.