LEVY
Francois Mori  /  AP file
Alma Levy, 16, left, and her 18-year old sister Lila, were expelled from their high school in Aubervilliers, outside Paris, after administrators said their headscarves were ostentatious symbols of religion, in October.
updated 12/11/2003 9:10:46 AM ET 2003-12-11T14:10:46

A French panel said Thursday that it favors banning Islamic head scarves and other religious symbols, including Jewish skullcaps, in schools.

Several girls have been expelled from public schools this year for wearing Islamic head scarves, fueling a debate on separation of church and state. Current rules forbid “ostentatious” symbols of religion in public schools and other public buildings.

The blue-ribbon panel agreed that France should impose a law banning “obvious” religious and political symbols from public schools.

Such a law would forbid students from wearing headscarves, yarmulkes or large-sized Christian crosses.

“Secularism is the separation of church and state, but it is also the respect of differences,” Bernard Stasi, head of the panel, told a news conference.

He said the law proposed by the commission was intended so people of all religions could “live together in public places.”

President Jacques Chirac, who appointed the panel, said he would address the nation next week with his own conclusions. He has made clear his opposition to blatant religious symbols in the classroom.

Christian and Jewish religious leaders have said they are opposed to a law banning head scarves from schools, instead expressing concern about better integrating the Muslim community.

Proponents of a law say that students who wear Muslim head scarves to school, just like civil servants who cover their heads on the job, are challenging France’s secular underpinnings.

France has an estimated 5 million Muslims, the most in Western Europe.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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