Amid abaya ban, French school sends girl home for wearing kimono: Lawyer

Human rights lawyer who plans to file complaint says 15-year-old was asked to leave school for wearing Japanese garment.

Schoolchildren arrive on the first day of the new school year after summer break at the College Antoine de Saint Exupery Middle School, in Savenay, France, September 4, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Schoolchildren arrive on the first day of the new school year after summer break at the College Antoine de Saint Exupery Middle School, in Savenay, France [File: Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

A schoolgirl in the French city of Lyon has reportedly been sent home for wearing a kimono, a traditional Japanese garment, as the European nation grapples with a controversial law banning the display of religious symbols in public schools.

Human rights lawyer Nabil Boudi, who plans to file a complaint over the incident, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the 15-year-old girl was told by the head teacher to leave the school because of her outfit – jeans, a t-shirt and an open kimono.

“This scenario illustrates the dangerous excesses that could legitimately be expected from the recent orders given by the education minister to his administration,” said Boudi.

“Absolutely nothing, in the mere wearing of a kimono, makes it possible to characterise an ostensible manifestation of belonging to a religion within the meaning of the law of March 15, 2004, without resorting to discriminatory prejudices.”

The student reportedly said that her clothes did not represent any religious affiliation.

Acts of discrimination committed by civil servants are punishable by criminal law, the lawyer said.

Translation: The office was seized today by a young high school student who was excluded this morning by the principal because she was wearing a kimono. A complaint for acts of discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation will be filed. Our press release.

Religious signs in state schools have been strictly banned in France since the 19th century, with laws removing any traditional Catholic influence from public education. French public schools do not permit the wearing of large crosses.

It is also forbidden for students to wear Jewish kippas and, in 2004, France also banned Muslim headscarves in schools, while in 2010 it passed a ban on full face veils in public, angering many in its five million-strong Muslim community.

In its latest move concerning how schoolchildren dress, the government announced last month a ban on the abaya – a loose-fitting, full-length robe worn by some Muslim women – saying it broke the rules on secularism in education.

The decision was welcomed by the political right but the hard left argued it represented an affront to civil liberties.

As a result of the new policy, French public schools sent dozens of girls home for refusing to remove their abayas on Monday, the first day of the school year.

Defying a ban on the garment seen as a religious symbol, nearly 300 girls showed up in the morning wearing abayas, according to Education Minister Gabriel Attal. Most agreed to change out of the robe, but 67 refused and were sent home, he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies