Veil row reignites in France

Daily Mail - 07 April 2013

A 15-year-old Muslim girl has been expelled from school in France for wearing a headband and long skirt combination which was considered ‘too religious’, her teachers confirmed today.

Sirine Ben Yahiaten is now set to launch a criminal complaint for discrimination and harassment following her exclusion from the Prunais college in Villiers-sur-Marne, a Paris suburb.

It comes as President Francois Hollande pledges to reinforce the controversial ban on full-face Islamic veils introduced in 2011.

All conspicuous signs of religious affiliation, including Islamic headscarves, were banned from French state schools in 2004.

But Sirine insists there was ‘nothing offensive’ about the black headband of between one and three inches wide which covered a portion of her hair.

She wore it regularly with a long skirt covering her trousers – leading to the college authorities forcing her to take her lessons in a study room, away from other pupils.

The college disciplinary board agreed the headband and long skirt combination was an attempt at a ‘religious symbol’.

Sirine’s family took the case to the Administrative Court in nearby Melun, which on March 19 ruled the schoolgirl should be ‘reintegrated’.

In turn, France’s Council of State reversed the court’s decision, and on Friday the college expelled Sirine for good.

A source at the college today confirmed that the headband and skirt combination was considered ‘too religious’ for secular France.
French President Francois Hollande has called for further restrictions against the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in public

Groups including Action Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) have now taken up Sirine’s cause, as she prepares to continue her fight against the school.

Since the law banning headscarves was introduced, Muslims have been accused of trying to get round the ban, using the kind of garments which Sirine has been expelled for.

Many believed Mr Hollande, the new Socialist president, would show a more liberal attitude towards Muslim dress.

But instead Mr Hollande has called for further restrictions on the wearing of the headscarf in public.

There have been demands for a new law after a ruling by France’s highest court of appeals last month which declared that an employee of a privately-run nursery was sacked for wearing an Islamic headscarf had been unlawfully dismissed.

On March 28, Mr Hollande called for the rules in ‘public service’ nurseries to be toughened up, so they are similar to those that apply in public schools.

There are an estimated six million Muslims in France, and many believe that dress laws are a cover for institutional discrimination against their religion and way of life.

France is a secular society, and many Muslims fear even stricter laws will increase acts of racism and hatred against them.

The National Front party, which has made significant electoral gains in recent years, has an openly anti-Muslim agenda.

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