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Father Irked by French School's Head Scarf Ban

October 12, 2003|From Reuters

PARIS — The Jewish father of two teenage Muslim girls expelled from their high school for wearing head scarves accused the authorities of "academic apartheid" Saturday and vowed to fight the ban.

School authorities issued the exclusion order Saturday, after the students refused to comply with a dress code banning "ostentatious" religious symbols.

The ruling comes amid an intense debate in France on the place of religious symbols in schools, largely linked to the growing popularity of head scarves among Muslim girls in the poor suburbs of big cities.

Alma and Lila, defiantly sporting their head scarves, told LCI television the ban was unfair after a losing six-hour debate with authorities at Henri-Wallon Lycee in the Aubervilliers suburb of Paris. Their father, Laurent Levy, who describes himself as an "atheist Jew, a man with no religion," said he was outraged.

Levy is separated from the girls' mother, a nonpracticing Muslim. The girls converted after meeting their mother's family, who are practicing Muslims.

"If offenses have been committed, and I think they have, I will raise these offenses with the penal authorities," Levy, who is a lawyer with the anti-racist MRAP movement, said on LCI.

The school had "managed to impose incredible violence on these two young girls and hound them out of the system," he said in a statement issued later.

"They have chosen academic apartheid," Levy said, adding that he reserved the right to challenge "this scandalous affair" in the country's courts.

French law imposes strict religious neutrality in public institutions, but the conservative government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is split on whether to ban head scarves.

France has Europe's largest Muslim minority with about 5 million people.

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