Muslims girls who refuse to remove their head scarves will have few options if they go to school in France starting next fall: enroll in a private school, likely Roman Catholic, or drop out.

A ban on wearing conspicuous religious insignia like head scarves, large crucifixes or Jewish skullcaps in public schools will likely be in place by the new school year in September. President Jacques Chirac, in a nationally televised speech, asked parliament to adopt a law instituting the ban.

Chirac’s request capped months of debate about mainly Roman Catholic France’s struggle to hold together the multiracial, multicultural but often poorly integrated society it has become after waves of immigration from North Africa and elsewhere.

France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, estimated at some 5 million, and there is concern that an assertive minority could threaten national cohesion in an increasingly diverse France.


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