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Catholic chaplains affected by French veil law

The French law meant to banish Muslim headscarves from state schools is finding unexpected targets in southern France, where some principals have begun turning away Catholic chaplains.

Five priests have been barred from state schools in the Var region despite the fact that French law has long allowed them entry to meet Catholic pupils there, according to the local diocesan spokesman Fr Charles Mallard.

One school in this Mediterranean port city barred a priest this week because he was wearing a cassock, the traditional black robe he wore last year without problem before the new law barring conspicuous religious symbols came into force.

"These decisions were taken unilaterally without consulting the chaplains," local Bishop Dominique Rey said.

Determined to stand firm against Muslim fundamentalism without singling out Islam, French lawmakers this year banned "conspicuous religious symbols" and indicated this meant the headscarf, the Jewish skullcap and large Christian crosses.

This has created problems for Sikh pupils, who now cannot wear their turbans although they are not a religious symbol, and now raised questions about the loophole in France's strict secularism that allows chaplains to work at state schools.

Teachers have long been barred from wearing any religious or political symbols so as not to influence their pupils.

"How can you explain to pupils that the law is the same for everyone if we make an exception like that?" asked Jean-Pierre Andrau, a history teacher at the lycee where Fr Antoine Galland was turned away.

Wearing an open-necked black shirt, diocesan spokesman Mallard said Galland wore a cassock because he belonged to a traditionalist Catholic community. Most chaplains wear black suits with Roman collars or secular clothes.

"We're not rigid about this," he said. "Religious garb is not essential for a Catholic priest's mission."

Catholic chaplains affected by French veil law (Reuters 7/10/04)

Nun identity card photo sparks veil debate (CathNews 9/9/04)
Cardinal says French headscarf ban 'unenforceable' (CathNews 12/2/04)
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)
Perth archbishop backs Premier's stand on religious freedom (CathNews 19/12/03)
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)

8 Oct 2004