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German Catholics: Muslim Scarf Political

Associated Press, USA
Jan. 7, 2004
David Rising, Associated Press Writer • Thursday January 8, 2004

BERLIN – The Muslim headscarf should be considered a political symbol and legislation banning public school teachers from wearing it should not extend to religious symbols that are part of the country’s “Christian tradition,” a German Catholic organization said Wednesday.

The statement was the latest development in a nationwide debate that began in September after Germany’s highest court ruled veils are allowed unless existing legislation outlaws them. The Federal Constitutional Court further said any new laws must treat all religions equally.

The Central Committee of German Catholics said banning all religious symbols “would ignore the meaning of the Christian tradition of this country.”

The headscarf should be seen as a “symbol against the equal rights of women, and thus against our free democratic constitutional structure as well as the values of our society,” the group said.

Along those lines, the state of Lower Saxony announced Wednesday that it would introduce legislation next week to ban the headscarf for schoolteachers, joining Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

As in the two other states, Lower Saxony will propose banning the headscarf as a political symbol in order to prevent “it being equated with a cross,” said government spokesman Olaf Glaesecker.

The head of Germany’s Jewish community urged states not to act in haste to pass new measures. In this week’s edition of the Juedischen Allgemeinen Wochenzeitung newspaper, Paul Spiegel said the debate over the headscarf has been superficial and needs greater discussion.

Germany, which has some 3.5 million Muslims, is closely watching France’s struggle with the same issue. French President Jacques Chirac announced plans in December to ban all religious symbols from public schools.

On Wednesday, a French Muslim fundamentalist leader said some Muslim girls will likely transfer to private schools, including Roman Catholic establishments, if the headscarf is banned.

“I know that our Catholic brothers are very tolerant,” Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the influential Union of Islamic Organizations of France, said in a newspaper interview.

The comments, in the daily free newspaper Metro, came as French Education Minister Luc Ferry met with Muslim leaders to address their concerns. Many of France’s 5 million Muslims say the push to ban the veil in schools is trampling on their freedoms.

Breze said the ban will put Muslim girls in the position of choosing between their education and “their conscience.”

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