8 September 2023

Rouen philosophy professor Franklin Nyamsi (with hat), accompanied by his lawyers, in the courtyard of the Rouen administrative court, May 3, 2023.

What limits apply to the public expression of teachers? The suspension for three months by the National Education of two philosophy teachers, Franklin Nyamsi and René Chiche, due to breaches of their duty of reserve on social networks, causes a stir among teachers of the discipline and revives this debate recurrent.

The first, a teacher in Rouen, destroyer of “Françafrique”, denounces a “political persecution” and an “dangerous jurisprudence against the freedom of expression of teachers”. The second, professor at La Ciotat (Bouches-du-Rhône), also vice-president of the minority Action and Democracy union and member of the Superior Council of Education, fierce opponent of the government’s health strategy during the Covid-19 pandemic , repeat that “freedom of expression is not variable geometry”. As for his Rouen counterpart, his suspension is accompanied by an interruption of salary payments.

These sanctions imposed in recent weeks “have been the subject of a strict procedure”ensures the World the Ministry of National Education. The two teachers were thus interviewed within the framework of joint administrative commissions.

“Outrageous, conspiratorial, insulting remarks”

Faced with the rise of the controversy, the Minister of National Education had to speak on Sunday May 7 during the program “Political Sunday”, on France 3. There, “we are not talking about the right to free expression, we are talking about outrageous, conspiratorial, insulting remarks of great violence”, said Pap Ndiaye. The rue de Grenelle tenant took as an example the words of René Chiche, comparing the deputies who voted for the vaccination pass to “those who voted for the status of the Jews” in 1940 – a tweet for which the deputy (Renaissance) of Yvelines Aurore Bergé filed a complaint.

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The result of a century of case law, the duty of reserve is not enshrined in law. It obliges all civil servants to exercise restraint in expressing their opinions outside the exercise of their functions, in particular when they are identified as public officials during their statements. “It is a somewhat fluctuating notion and difficult to grasp for civil servants, who do not know how far they can go”, notes Emmanuel Aubin, professor of public law at the University of Tours. According to this jurist, the duty of reserve constrains the form of the expression and not the substance. Excessiveness, insult, denigration, the impact of comments on the image of public service are part of the assessment criteria to qualify it.

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