Tuesday, February 24, 2009

France Adds Beards to List of Taboo Religious Signs

Paris, gusdur.net
France's plan to bar religious symbols from state schools slid into confusion Tuesday after the education minister said a proposed ban on Muslim veils could also outlaw beards if they were judged to be a sign of faith.

Opposition politicians derided the government plan as misguided and some of President Jacques Chirac's conservative allies said they would abstain or vote against the law meant to stem growing Islamist influence among some of France's five million Muslims.

In another sign of the political tangle the veil debate has caused, a senior French official issued a rare public rebuke to Pope John Paul II for saying some politicians' efforts to ban faith from the public sphere endangered religious freedom in Europe.

Education Minister Luc Ferry made the surprising statement about disciplining bearded students in a National Assembly legal committee hearing about the draft law on the ban due to be debated next month.

Discussing the plan to remove Islamic headscarves from state schools, he told a communist deputy who asked about a pupil with a beard: "As soon as it becomes a religious sign and the code is apparent, it would fall under this law."

Pious Muslim men wear beards in obedience to the Prophet Mohammad, who is said to have instructed them to do so.

Sikhs -- of whom there are over 5,000 in the Paris area -- also wear beards because they do not cut their hair. Ferry said they might still be able to wear discreet turbans to school but did not mention their facial hair.

Claude Goasguen, deputy leader for Chirac's UMP party in parliament, said he was considering abstaining from the vote. Centrist Francois Bayrou denounced the planned ban as "a whiff of oxygen for fundamentalists" who would exploit it to whip up protests.

Socialist deputy Julien Dray declared: "This is putting a comic face on a very serious issue." Socialist parliamentary leader Jean-Marc Ayrault said the government's position "is not clear at all." (reuters, 20/1/2004)

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