Islamic veils under scrutiny in France

Splits are emerging in the French government over whether it should ban the wearing of Islamic veils in its schools.

    Islam is the second major religion in France

    The differences emerged during a commission on secularity which will decide if

    new legislation is needed to handle a

    growing debate over religion in schools

    .

    An outcome is expected as early as next month, although a definite date has yet to emerge.  

    Social Affairs Minister Francois Fillon told the panel he was

    "favourable to a law forbidding the ostentatious wearing of any

    religious sign".

    His view, he said, was based on France's strict secular

    tradition in the public sector and in the interests of integrating

    immigrants by instilling French values.

    Secularism

    But Education Minister Luc Ferry said "to tackle 10

    contentious cases a year, it's maybe going a bit overboard to create

    a specific law".

    Instead, he and his schools minister, Xavier Darcos, said a

    future law should "positively affirm the principle of secularism".

    France's 60-million strong population counts around five million

    Muslims, and tensions in some schools have risen recently with

    teachers ordering Muslim girls to take off their scarves or leave

    the class.

    Ferry estimated there were around 100 cases a year of disputes

    in schools over the scarves, with about a dozen of those

    cases turning into lawsuits.

    Discrimination 

    He admitted some principals had been handling the issue

    themselves, without notifying higher authorities, because they

    understood that "this would create problems for them".

    In an effort to get around the banning of the scarves in

    state schools, a private Muslim high school

    opened in the northern city

    of Lille this month with 12 students.

    The six girls in the

    Lycee Averroes all wear veils.

    French Muslim groups say the scarf ban is an attack on Islamic culture which alienates Muslims from French society rather than endears them to it.

    SOURCE: AFP


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