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Perth archbishop backs Premier's stand on religious freedom

Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth has called French President Chirac's moves to legislate secularism "ridiculous" after Western Australian Premier Geoff Gallop's dismissal of suggestions that the state follow the French lead.

Chirac has sought a law banning Islamic head scarves and other religious insignia in public schools. Prompted by escalating racial division, he has promoted the legislation by pointing out that secularism is a founding principle of the French Republic.

Archbishop Hickey said: "I am pleased that Premier Gallop has rejected any possibility of Western Australia following this absurd and dangerous French proposal to ban the wearing of religious insignia in French schools."

He warned that any government that would legislate on the basis that secularism is better than religion "will not stop at what children wear to school".

He said: "We have heard numerous claims here in WA that secular thinking is the only kind that should have a place in Parliament, so perhaps we are not as far removed from the mentality of Jacques Chirac as we would like to believe."

Meanwhile in Melbourne, auxiliary Bishop Mark Coleridge has criticised the "politically correct" removal of references to Christmas as the raison d'etre of the holiday season.

He argues in The Age today that the spirit of secular Christmas is summed up by banners saying "celebrate Me!bourne" - with the exclamation mark after "Me".

"Once Christ vanishes from the Christmas festival all you are left with is a you-and-me feast of consumerism," he said. "You end up with the husk - the kernel has gone - and the husk is not enough."

Comment for the West Australian by Archbishop Barry Hickey Catholic Archbishop of Perth (18/12/03)
'Anti-religious' fervour makes for a muted celebration (The Age 19/12/03)

Religious dress ban under fire (The West Australian 16/12/03)
Councils dump Christmas message (Herald-Sun 13/12/03)
Celebrate Me!bourne
French leader supports ban on religious symbols in schools (CathNews 18/12/03)
Chirac backs ban on headscarves (BBC 17/12/03)
Q&A: Muslim headscarves (BBC 17/12/03)
Secularism gone mad (The Guardian 18/12/03)
France's narrow view of headscarves (Dawn 18/12/03)

19 Dec 2003