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France Senate adopts law banning religious apparel

Associated Press, USA
Mar. 3, 2004 • Thursday March 4, 2004

PARIS – A law banning Islamic head scarves from France’s public schools was definitively adopted Wednesday with the Senate voting 276-20 in favor.

The overwhelming vote mirrored similar wide support by the National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, which passed the measure Feb. 10 by a vote of 494-36.

The Hijab

“Hijab is the modern name for the practice of dressing modestly, which all practicing Muslims past the age of puberty are instructed to do in their holy book, the Qur’an. No precise dress code for men or women is set out in the Qur’an, and various Islamic scholars have interpreted the meaning of hijab in different ways.”
- Wikipedia

President Jacques Chirac must now promulgate the measure, by formally signing it into law, within 15 days. It was Chirac who said a law was needed to protect the French principle of secularism.

The measure forbids religious apparel and signs that “conspicuously show” a student’s religious affiliation. Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses would also be banned. However, authorities have made clear that it is aimed at removing Islamic head scarves from classrooms.

The law is to take effect with the start of the new school year in September.

The Senate, controlled like the lower house by conservatives like Chirac, dismissed 23 proposed amendments raised during two days of debate. The amendments were offered mainly by the left.

The law is to be re-examined after a year in force to see whether “conspicuous” should be replaced by “visible.”

The opposition Socialists had argued during the lower house debate that “visible” is a less ambiguous term that would make the law easier to apply.

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