PARIS (AP) — A law banning Islamic headscarves in
France’s public schools was overwhelmingly adopted yesterday
in the Senate despite protests by many French Muslims that the
measure is discriminatory.

The 276 to 20 vote mirrored similar support by the National
Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, which passed it 494 to
36 on Feb. 10.

President Jacques Chirac must now formally sign it into law
within 15 days. He had said such a law was needed to protect the
French principle of secularism.

The law forbids religious apparel and signs that
“conspicuously show” a student’s religious
affiliation. While Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses
would also be banned, authorities have made clear that it is aimed
at removing Islamic headscarves from classrooms.

The measure is to take effect with the start of the new school
year in September.

There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in mostly Roman
Catholic France — the largest Muslim population in Western
Europe.

There was never any doubt the measure would be passed.

The Senate, which like the lower house is controlled by
conservatives such as Chirac, still had to dismiss 23 proposed
amendments raised in two days of debate. The amendments were
offered mainly by the left.

The law is to be re-examined after a year in force to see
whether “conspicuous” should be replaced by
“visible.”

The opposition Socialists had argued during the lower house
debate that “visible” is a less-ambiguous term that
would make the law easier to apply.

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