French School Ban on Muslim Garment Sparks Controversy and Court Challenge

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Most of the girls readily transitioned into different attire after the school district enforced a ban on wearing a distinct garment in educational institutions. The ban impacted 298 mainly high-school-aged girls, who arrived at school attired in the prohibited outfit.

Following guidelines established by the education ministry, school staff engaged in dialogue with each student wearing the banned garment. After this discussion, the majority of the girls willingly changed into different attire, paving their way to begin classes.

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Yet, 67 of the girls staunchly refused to adhere to the new rule. Consequently, these girls were returned home. A further series of dialogues with their families is now lined up. If these discussions bear no fruit, the girls will face expulsion.

Reflecting on the 12 million boys and girls who resumed school on Monday, the government interprets the small fraction of non-compliant students as a signal that its ban is widely accepted.

However, a group advocating some Muslims is readying to challenge the prohibition in court later today.

As August neared its close, the education minister had declared a ban on Muslim students wearing full-length loose robes, commonly seen in France’s state-run schools, effective from the onset of the new school year on September 4.

Maintaining its strict posture on religious symbols in state schools and government edifices, France contends that such symbols violate secular laws. It had already banned the wearing of headscarves in schools administered by the state in 2004.

This latest move follows months of fervent debates over the visibility of abayas in French schools. The garment’s increasing presence school-wide has polarized politicians, inciting right-wing parties to demand a ban and left-wing counterparts to express concern for Muslim women’s and girls’ rights.

France had already ignited a firestorm in 2010 by banning public wearing of full-face veils, angering the country’s Muslim population of approximately five million.

France’s prohibition of religious symbols at educational institutions traces its roots to the 19th Century, when it sought to minimize Catholic influence on public education by banning large crosses. Over the years, the law has evolved with the changing population to also include the Muslim headscarf and Jewish kippa. However, the ban on abayas is an unprecedented move.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.