- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

From combined dispatches

PARIS — The simmering dispute in France over the right of Muslim girls to wear the head scarf in class burst into life again yesterday when two sisters were banned from a suburban Paris school for refusing to uncover parts of their face.

Lila and Alma Levy, 18- and 16-year-old daughters of a Jewish man and a Muslim woman, were ordered to stay away from the Henri Wallon school in the northern suburb of Aubervilliers pending a decision by the school’s disciplinary board in 10 days.

According to a note from the education authority, the girls were wearing clothes “of an ostentatious character” that were also unsuitable for sports lessons. And it said the sisters caused a “public nuisance” by taking part in a demonstration in front of the school Tuesday in favor of head scarves.

The girls’ lawyer father, Laurent Levy, reacted angrily to their exclusion from school and threatened legal action unless they are quickly readmitted.

“Three quarters of the children at their school are from immigrant families. Perhaps a half are of Muslim origin. Saying to them that just because they practice the religion of their ancestors they are doing something ugly is a surefire way of causing an explosion,” Mr. Levy said at a press conference.

He said his daughters had been told they could wear head scarves only if they showed the roots of their hair, earlobes and neck — but they regarded this as unacceptable to their faith.

The wearing of Islamic head scarves in school is fiercely opposed by upholders of France’s secular tradition, who say it entrenches inequality between the sexes and the division of society into religious communities.

After similar disputes in the past, a compromise was reached under which school principals are given latitude to decide whether a girl’s head scarf is sufficiently discreet.

But under pressure from left-wing teacher unions, the government announced earlier this year that it is considering a law that would make all signs of religious affiliation illegal in schools, prompting an angry response from many Muslims that it would be a form of discrimination.

In Germany, meanwhile, the country’s highest court ruled yesterday that a regional state was wrong in banning a teacher from wearing a Muslim head scarf in the classroom.

The German court battle began in 1998 when Fereshta Ludin, a 31-year-old German of Afghan origin, applied for a job at a public elementary school in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, and was turned down over her insistence on wearing the Muslim head scarf on the job.

The school said that would violate the religious neutrality the German constitution requires of state institutions. Miss Ludin argued her rejection violated her right to religious freedom.

The German Constitutional Court ruled the state was wrong to deny Miss Ludin a job but only because Baden-Wuerttemberg currently has no law banning head scarves.

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