- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PARIS (AP) — The French Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill banning the burqa-style Islamic veil in public, but the leaders of both parliamentary houses said they had asked a special council to first ensure the measure passes constitutional muster amid concerns its tramples on religious freedoms.

The Senate voted 246 to 1 Tuesday in favor of the bill, which has already passed in the lower chamber, the National Assembly. It will need President Nicolas Sarkozy’s signature.

Legislative leaders said they wanted the Constitutional Council to examine it.

“This law was the object of long and complex debates,” the Senate president, Gerard Larcher, and National Assembly head Bernard Accoyer said in a joint statement explaining their move. They said they want to be certain there is “no uncertainty” about it conforming to the constitution.

The measure affects less than 2,000 women.

Many Muslims believe the legislation is one more blow to France’s second religion, and risks raising the level of Islamophobia in a country where mosques, like synagogues, are sporadic targets of hate. However, the vast majority behind the measure say it will preserve the nation’s singular values, including its secular foundation and a notion of fraternity that is contrary to those who hide their faces.

France would be the first European country to pass such a law though others, notably neighboring Belgium, are considering laws against face-covering veils, seen as anathema to the local culture.

“Our duty concerning such fundamental principles of our society is to speak with one voice,” said Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, opening a less than 5-hour-long debate ahead of the vote.

The measure, carried by Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative party, was passed overwhelmingly by the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, on July 13.


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