French MPs strike deal on headscarf law

6th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 5 (AFP) - France's ruling conservatives and left-wing opposition on Thursday struck an accord over a draft law banning Muslim headscarves and other religious insignia in state schools.

 

PARIS, Feb 5 (AFP) - France's ruling conservatives and left-wing opposition on Thursday struck an accord over a draft law banning Muslim headscarves and other religious insignia in state schools.

The deal paves the way for the controversial draft legislation to be approved during a formal vote by the National Assembly on Tuesday.

 The opposition Socialists had said their backing depended on an amendment requiring the law to be reviewed after a year, and on the understanding that it would not be wielded in a way that would alienate religious communities.

French public opinion backs the idea of a ban on conspicuous religious insignia in state schools, as does President Jacques Chirac and some key ministers, including the author of the bill before parliament, Education Minister Luc Ferry.

The bill, approved by the government a week ago, says that in state schools "the wearing of signs or clothes which conspicuously display a pupil's religious affiliation is prohibited". It would apply also to Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and the Sikh turban.

But others are reluctant to legislate on the matter, especially after protests by some of France's estimated five million Muslims and by members of the 6,000-strong Sikh community.

The head of the Socialists in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said a law upholding France's principle of secularism should be "a law of national harmony, of republican harmony, and not a law that will divide."

He said the amendment put forward by his party would subject the law to review a year after it came into force.

The addition was seen as a way to bring those hesitating on board to back the bill, which goes to the vote in the lower chamber of parliament next Tuesday. It will then be passed to the upper chamber, the Senate.

A Socialist lawmaker, Rene Dosiere, said the deal with Chirac's ruling Union for a Popular Majority meant "the text will be improved enough so that the Socialist group can vote for it."

Small protests were held Wednesday in several French cities by groups of mostly Muslim women dressed in headscarves calling for the bill to be dropped.

Also on Wednesday, a British member of European Parliament called on the European Union to examine the legality of the French law, and expressed concern about the fate of Sikh men who are obliged by their faith to wear a turban.

A survey published Tuesday by the SOFRES institute found that 57 percent of the French thought that the wearing of a headscarf, kippa or big cross in a public place was "a threat to national cohesion" and 77 percent said they supported the principle of secularity.

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

 

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