France bans abayas, khamis in classrooms

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PARIS, Aug 29, (AP): France’s education minister has announced a ban on long robes in classrooms starting with the new school year, saying the garments worn mainly by Muslims are testing secularism in the nation’s schools. Critics say that abayas, worn by women, and khamis, the male garb, are no more than a fashion statement. They say the garments do not constitute an ostentatious sign of religion and should not be banned from classrooms under a 2004 law.

For Gabriel Attal, the recently appointed education chief, the garments are “an infringement on secularism,” a foundational principle for France, and, in some cases, a bid to destabilize schools. The 34-year-old Attal, appointed in July, was potentially moving into a minefield with his ban on long robes to “protect” secularism, prompted by growing reports of the garments in some classrooms around the country. Previous statements and laws on secularism have seeded acrimonious debate. “Our schools are continually tested. We know that,”

Attal said at a news conference a week ahead of the start of the school year. He said that the wearing of abayas and khamis had grown recently, and must be met with a firm response to tackle what sometimes amounts to “infringements, attempts at destabilization.” “We must stand together. We will stand together. … The abaya has no place in school, no more than religious symbols,” Attal said, referring to the 2004 law which banned Muslim headscarves, Jewish kippas, large crosses and other “ostentatious” religious accoutrements from classrooms. French authorities have increasingly moved to defend secularism, a constitutional principle meant to guarantee religious neutrality in a multicultural nation

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