FRANCE

French Muslim teen banned from class for wearing long skirt

Screengrab of Twitter account Madamefigaro | Teenager Sarah is stopped from entering class in Charleville- Mezieres because her skirt is deemed a religious symbol

A decision to ban a French teenager from class for wearing a skirt that was deemed an overtly religious symbol has exposed, once again, frictions between France's rigidly secular public institutions and the country’s large Muslim population.

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A teacher in the northeastern town of Charleville-Mezieres stopped the 15-year-old Muslim, identified as Sarah, because her skirt’s sweeping length conspicuously revealed the student’s religious affiliation, French media reported, an accusation Sarah denied.

The skirt was "nothing special, it's very simple, there's nothing conspicuous. There is no religious sign whatsoever," Sarah said, according to local newspaper L'Ardennais.

Secular values

French law forbids the use of religious symbols such as headscarves, as well as Jewish kippas and ostentatious crucifixes, in schools in keeping with the France’s staunchly secular values that are codified under a century-old law that separates church and state.

Originally intended to reduce the influence of Christianity on French public life, the law has since often been at odds with Islamic edicts in practices such as diet and dress as more Muslims immigrated to France in the post-colonial years.

Critics say French secularism, which is meant to reinforce equality, is instead being used as a cover to discriminate against Muslims while keeping Christian traditions as the French standard.

They argue that although French schools forbid religious education, they celebrate Christian holidays but not those of other religions, a discrepancy that can grate France's Muslim population, Europe’s largest.

One study suggests that the French have a basic bias against Muslims that is only likely to rise with the projected increase in the proportion of Muslims in France, which in turn is expected to feed further withdrawal of Muslims from French society.

'Provocation'

In what appeared to be a defence of the teacher’s call to not allow Sarah into class, the regional education office said that wearing the outfit could have been part of a concerted "provocation", AFP reported.

"When it comes to concerted protest actions by students, which follow other more visible incidents linked for instance to wearing the veil, the secular framework for education must be firmly reminded and guaranteed," the office said in a statement.

Local education official Patrice Dutot told AFP on Tuesday that Sarah had not been excluded from class, but “was asked to come back with a neutral outfit and it seems her father did not want the student to come back to school”.

On social media site Twitter #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux, which translates to I Wear My Skirt As I Want To started trending, as news of the incident was met with derision.

A few users cheekily posted pictures of French politician Marine Le Pen in a floor-length gown and joked in French that the extreme right anti-immigration leader must have converted to Islam.

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