updated 10/20/2004 4:31:49 PM ET 2004-10-20T20:31:49

Two more Muslim girls were expelled Wednesday from high school for refusing to remove their head scarf, bringing the total to four expulsions in two days as officials began acting against those who defy a new law banning conspicuous religious apparel in public schools.

A 17-year-old girl was forced out of school in the eastern city of Mulhouse following a disciplinary hearing, said Gilles-Jean Klein, spokesman for the Strasbourg school district. Another girl was expelled from a school in the town of Flers in the western Normandy region, according to the Caen school district.

Two other girls, 12 and 13, were sent home Tuesday in Mulhouse. A fifth student, also in Mulhouse, risked expulsion later Wednesday, Klein said. Six more students could face a similar fate before the week was up, the Education Ministry said.

At the start of the week, there were 72 cases of students who risk expulsion for refusing to remove conspicuous religious signs or apparel — 17 in the Strasbourg area. Most are Muslim girls who wear Islamic head scarves, but Sikh school boys who refuse to remove turbans also are among the 72.

Proceeding cautiously
France has proceeded cautiously with the new law, especially since two French journalists were kidnapped in Iraq, purportedly by the Islamic Army of Iraq. The group has demanded that the new law be lifted before it would release Christian Chesnot and Christian Malbrunot, who disappeared Aug. 20.

However, this week schools began convening hearings to decide difficult cases before the All Saints Day vacation period, which ends after the Nov. 1 Roman Catholic holiday.

Those expelled have the right to appeal their cases to the head of the academy. If they are under 16 — the legal age for leaving school — the expelled students must continue their education at a private school, by correspondence or another means, Klein said.

Some 600 cases of defiance of the law were counted at the start of the school year in September, but most have been resolved through dialogue — as called for in the law, Education Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday.

The law, passed in March but first applied this fall, bans conspicuous religious signs and apparel, including Muslim head scarves, Jewish skull caps and large Christian crosses.

Sikhs face discipline as well
The small Sikh community in France, estimated at 6,000 people, has learned that turbans also can pose a problem. Three Sikhs at a school in Bobigny, outside Paris, have been kept out of class since September.

In the first court case concerning the law, Sikh leaders asked an administrative court to force the Louise-Michel school to convene a disciplinary council or allow the boys in class. A ruling is expected Friday.

The law is intended to uphold France’s constitutionally guaranteed principle of secularism, considered undermined by a growing number of Muslim girls wearing head scarves in public school classrooms.

Authorities have also said they view the law as a way to fight rising Muslim fundamentalism in France and to protect the rights of women, widely viewed here as submissive to men if they wear head scarves.

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