Home » US Panel Denounces France Abaya Ban as Targeting Muslims

US Panel Denounces France Abaya Ban as Targeting Muslims

Washington (AFP) – A US government advisory panel on Friday denounced ally France’s ban on schoolgirls wearing abayas, saying the restriction on the long, flowing dresses was meant to “intimidate” the Muslim minority.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is tasked with making recommendations to the US government but does not set policy itself.

The commission’s chair, Abraham Cooper, called the abaya ban a “misguided effort to promote the French value of laicite,” the country’s official secularism.

“France continues to wield a specific interpretation of secularism to target and intimidate religious groups, particularly Muslims,” Cooper said in a statement.

“While no government should use its authority to impose a specific religion on its population, it is equally condemnable to restrict the peaceful practice of individuals’ religious beliefs to promote secularism.”

French Education Minister Gabriel Attal announced last month that schools would no longer allow girls to wear abayas, the flowing dresses of Middle Eastern origin.

In 2004, France banned school children from wearing “signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” and outlawed headscarves, turbans, large crosses or kippas.

But abayas had fallen into a gray area with some women saying that they wear them due to their cultural identity rather than religious belief.

Conservative French politicians have sought to widen restrictions. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who came in second to President Emmanuel Macron in last year’s presidential election, has campaigned for the banning of wearing veils in the street.

The ban on the abaya was denounced in France by some Muslim leaders and by hard-left political leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who called it a move to fan divisions.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is made up of appointees of both major political parties but some of its recommendations have been repeatedly ignored by the State Department, including its calls to condemn India.

The United States also has a constitutional separation of church and state but interprets secularism differently, with the government imposing minimal restrictions related to religion.

Source : France 24

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