France Passes Muslim Head Scarves Ban by an Overwhelming Vote

( [email protected] ) Mar 04, 2004 03:24 PM EST

PARIS – The French government has adopted the ban on Islamic head scarves and all other religious symbols including Christian crosses from state schools yesterday, March 4, with an overwhelming vote of 276 to 20, which was reflected very similar result to the decision made by the National Assembly, the lower chamber which passed it by the vote of 494 to 36 on Feb. 10.

As soon as President Jacques Chirac signs the measure into law within the next 15 days, the ban will become effective for the new school year in September. Chirac has said the ban is necessary to preserve the constitutionally guaranteed national principles of secularity.

Other French leaders hope the law could end the debate over head scarves which has divided France since 1989, when two girls were expelled from their school in Creil for wearing their head scarves.

The law bans students from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols, not only Islamic head scarves but also Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses as well. However, the government officials say the ban is aimed at removing Islamic head scarves from classrooms.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin along with French Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches expressed their concern over the possible negative outcomes the law could bring within the people who consider it discriminatory since there are increasing number of outraged Muslims who are against the ban.

"It is clear that on the international level the question is not always understood," Raffarin said. The measure "could be perceived as sectarian," he added. "We must not consider this to be a minor situation."

Raffarin insisted, however, that the law was needed to protect the nation for secularism and the spread of Muslim fundamentalism. "We wanted to send a strong and rapid signal," he said.

It is still unclear how the law will be applied to schools. The government would need to engage in more discussion on what must be done to the girls who wish to cover their hair with other smaller apparel. Education Minister Luc Ferry will be meeting with representatives of France's tiny Sikh with the population of 4,000 on March 10.