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France considers a ban on wearing religious symbols in public

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  • thekoba@aztecfreenet.org
    The following article, attributed to Elaine Ganley of the Associated Press, appeared on page A28 of the Friday, December 12, 2003 edition of the Arizona
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13 10:31 AM
      The following article, attributed to Elaine Ganley of the Associated Press,
      appeared on page A28 of the Friday, December 12, 2003 edition of the Arizona
      Republic. While I am entirely in favour of secular government and a secular
      society, I am uneasy with such government intervention in how people dress,
      and I suspect such a law would not be enforced with an even hand, rather
      would target unpopular religious groups. I don't suspect they will ever
      be able to enforce a law that prevents French Catholics from wearing a
      crucifix pendant in public.

      --Kevin Walsh


      Paris--A presidential commission on Thursday backed a ban on Islamic head
      scarves in public schools, stepping into the wrenching debate over how to
      preserve the country's secular identity while integrating France's Muslim
      population, the largest in Western Europe.

      If it becomes law, the measure would also bar other conspicuous religious
      symbols, including Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.

      The commission spent six months studying the issue and held 120 hearings,
      collecting testimony from experts across Europe.

      French President Jacques Chirac, who in the past has made clear his
      opposition to head scarves in the classroom, is expected on Wednesday to
      announce in an address to the nation whether he supports enacting the panel's
      recommendations into law.

      For nearly 15 years, France has debated the issue, but it has taken on new
      life during the past two years with the expulsion of dozens of girls from
      school for refusing to remove their scarves.

      Bernard Stasi, who headed the commission, said the proposed law was aimed
      at keeping France's strict secular underpinnings intact and at countering
      "forces that are trying to destabilize the country," a reference to Islamic

      Stasi said the commission was not discriminating against France's Muslim
      community but sought to give all religions a more equal footing.

      The panel recommended a ban from classrooms of all "obvious" political and
      religious symbols including Islamic head scarves, Jewish skullcaps and
      large Christian crucifixes. More discreet symbols such as small crosses
      would be acceptable, it said.

      France covets its secularism, won nearly a century ago after a long battle
      with the Catholic Church, and fears that this constitutionally guaranteed
      principle is being undermined by some communities, particularly Muslims.

      A more basic fear is that the head scarf reflects the rise of militant
      Islam in France.

      One panel member, researcher Jacqueline Costa-Lascoux, cited a Moroccan
      girl whose father was paid $600 a trimester to ensure that his daughter
      wore a head scarf to school.

      Muslims represent about seven percent of France's 60 million people while
      the country's Jewish community is about one percent of the population,
      also Western Europe's largest.

      Until now, the only policy on head scarves in schols comes from the Council
      of State, France's highest administrative body, which has said they can be
      banned if they are of an "ostentatious character," a judgment left to each

      The Muslim head scarf is but one aspect of the conflict between religion
      and the secular culture, the panel found. Without naming a particular
      religion, the report cited examples of male students refusing to take oral
      exams from female teachers or men refusing to allow their wives to be
      treated by male doctors.
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