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Cardinal says French headscarf ban 'unenforceable'

The French Government's ban on religious symbols in state schools has been denounced as "unenforceable" by Cardinal Bernard Panafieu, the Archbishop of Marseilles.

The State would do "better to act through persuasion than by compulsion" if it wanted to control the use of religious symbols in its schools, he said.

On Tuesday deputies in the National Assembly voted 494 to 36 to ban Muslim Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses in France's strictly secular public schools. The ban will not extend to private schools.

French officials argue the ban is needed to defend France's secular tradition against a wave of Islamic militancy among its five million Muslims.

Cardinal Panafieu agreed that many Muslim immigrants were not accustomed to a "lay, pluralist society", but said it would be wrong to use laws to prevent immigrants from "asserting their identity".

Tuesday's vote related to the first reading of the bill, which must go to the Senate and then back to the National Assembly for final approval in mid-March, which should now be only a formality.

The key passage of the law, which schools would apply from September, reads: "In primary and secondary state schools, wearing signs and clothes that conspicuously display the pupil's religious affiliation is forbidden."

Headscarf ban 'unenforceable', says cardinal (The Tablet 7/2/04)
French Politicians Vote to Ban Religious Items (Reuters/Moscow Times 11/2/04)

Perth archbishop backs Premier's stand on religious freedom (CathNews 19/12/03)
Q&A: Muslim headscarves (BBC)

12 Feb 2004